Researchers Confirm Effective Way to Communicate with Cats

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. affirm / əˈfɜrm / (v) – to confidently say that something is true

    Based on the results of the new study, the scientists affirmed that stress causes sleep disorders.

  2. rapport / ræˈpɔr / (n) – a friendly relationship

    It is important to build rapport and avoid conflicts at work.

  3. blink / blɪŋk / (v) – to close and open both eyes very quickly

    She blinked several times after a strong wind blew in her face.

  4. anecdotal / ˈæn ɪkˌdoʊt l / (adj) – based on personal observation or people’s stories instead of actual scientific investigation

    We don’t have scientific data on this, actually; the information we have is purely anecdotal.

  5. under-studied / ˈʌn dər ˈstʌd id / (adj) – not studied or observed as much as others

    Some illnesses have no known cure because they are under-studied.


Read the text below.

Psychologists from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom have discovered how humans can effectively communicate with cats.

The researchers affirmed that mimicking a cat’s “smile” can help humans build rapport with their feline companions. Cats smile not by showing their teeth like humans do but by narrowing their eyes and blinking slowly. Previously gathered anecdotal evidence from cat owners has suggested that this expression lets cats know that humans are friendly and open to interaction.

The study’s results showed that cats were more likely to be friendly with and approach humans who performed the gesture.  The results were true not only for people familiar to the cats but also for those that the cats had no previous contact with.

To test the effectiveness of this gesture, researchers conducted two experiments. The first experiment involved 21 cats and their owners. The second experiment involved 24 cats and the researchers, with whom the cats had no prior contact.

In the first experiment, the owners were instructed to blink slowly when their cats looked at them. In the second one, the researchers performed the slow blink when the cats looked at them. Cameras recorded the faces of the cats and humans participating in both experiments. These recordings were then compared to recordings of situations when humans did not do the slow blink.

The results of the first experiment showed that the cats approached their owners when they did the gesture. The results were similar for the second experiment involving the researchers, despite the cats not being familiar with them.

University of Sussex psychologist Tasmin Humphrey said that understanding positive interactions between cats and humans can enhance people’s understanding of how to better take care of felines. Humphrey and her fellow researchers believe that their findings can be used in different settings like animal shelters and veterinary clinics. They also believe that the study helps people know more about cats and their way of thinking, which can add to the knowledge about the under-studied species.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think it’s important to learn how animals communicate with humans? Explain.
• Do you think scientists should also try to study how to build rapport with animals that are not pets?

Discussion B

• What other animals do you think are under-studied? Discuss.
• Do you think it’s important to study all animals? Why or why not?