The Meaning Behind Cats' Expressions

Khryss | Published 2017-04-02 08:40
Cats are really mysterious, their thoughts perplexing. Even though we think we know what their expressions imply, there’s still always much to learn about. Recently, a study by the University of Lincoln published in the journal Behavioural Processes has ‘unlocked’ the secrets of these felines’ facial expressions. Researchers observed 29 domestic cats contained within an animal shelter in Canada. They utilized CatFACS or Facial Action Coding System, a complex computer software, to detect the smallest changes in a cat’s facial expressions with and without human interaction. According to the study, the feline’s facial expressions largely swing between “relaxed engagement, fear and frustration.” Cats are mostly afraid, angry, plotting or pondering, which really make sense to plenty of cat owners like me. But apparently, there’s no happiness and sadness that comes in play which is...weird. Just look at this cutie! Moreover, anthropomorphic as we are, we usually see blinking and half-blinking cats to be indifferent, unimpressed, or even uncaring to the seemingly stupid actions of their big human owners. However, they found that blinking excessively is actually a fearful expression. As for frustration, the authors included “hissing, nose-licking, dropping of the jaw, the raising of the upper lip, nose wrinkling, lower lip depression, parting of the lips, mouth stretching, vocalisation and showing of the tongue.” Defensive postures, mouth stretching, meowing loudly, dropping of the jaw, and even biting and paw-swiping are signs of an angry or aggressive cat. When they are so relaxed, the authors added “…[their] ears [are] forward and adducted, and the cat at the front of the cage in sternal recumbency with a relaxed body, the whiskers are retracted and head down.” They also tend to tilt their head, gazing at their right. Gazing to the left, however, could mean they are fearful of something. But cat faces are varied as the researchers note. “Cat faces are often covered in hair. This can make distinguishing the nuances of facial expression in cats, in general, challenging,” although they claim that CatFACS is able to somewhat avoid this problem. The study was also based on rescued cats from an animal shelter and not living with humans, which means their behavior could be unconventional. This study has yet to go past its limitations for further clarifications. So, for now, I guess we just have to settle to these “possibilities”. Thing is, they’re also nicer than we think they are but dream of murdering things! How complex. Yet we still love them so dearly.
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