Most people struggle to read cats’ expressions, but "cat whisperers" don’t

04 Décembre, 2019, 08:56 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Behavioural biologists at the University of Guelph recently published a paper that confirmed'cats are quite hard to read

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Guelph chose to look at how well people were able to read the expressions on cat faces. "Our finding that some people are outstanding at reading these subtle clues suggests it's a skill more people can be trained to do", said study lead Lee Niel, a behavioral biologist at the university. The pool of 40 videos the study used showed close-up face shots of cats that were in either a positive or negative emotional state.

Most people have a hard time picking up on the emotions hidden in a cat's facial expression.

The use of YouTube videos "ensures cats were behaving in cat-typical ways and gives the conclusions a sense of reality, since these are situations and expressions people may typically encounter with cats", said Kristyn R. Vitale, who researches cat behavior and cognition but was not involved in the study. Georgia Mason, both from U of G's Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare. Don't fret. Most people aren't.

Overall, women and people with veterinary experience were better than average at recognizing a cat's expression, even those that said they don't feel a strong attachment to cats.

Vitale, who said she takes facial expressions into account "all the time" when interacting with cats at her Oregon State University lab, got a ideal score on a shortened online version of the new study's survey.

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Dr Mason and her team created a survey where participants watch short close up videos of cat faces taken from various positive and negative situations but only showing the face and not the circumstances. The average score was 12 out of 20 correct answers, which is just about as accurate as a coinflip.

But 13% of the participants performed very well, correctly scoring 15 or better - a group the researchers informally called 'the cat whisperers'. But the most skilled diviners of feline feelings were people with professional experience involving cats, including veterinarians. Younger adults also generally scored better than older adults.

"The fact that women generally scored better than men is consistent with previous research that has shown that women appear to be better at decoding non-verbal displays of emotion, both in humans and dogs", said Prof.

Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, being a cat lover made no difference at all. In this case the cat was feeling negative as a screen door had frustrated its attempts to come indoors.

"This is important to be able to do because it could help strengthen the bond between owners and cats, and so improve cat care and welfare", said Niel.

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