Cats Have Distinct Facial Expressions and They Can Be Decoded

Have you ever felt like you could intuit what your cat was thinking? Peer through those big innocent eyes into that frenzied — or perhaps totally calm — feline brain that’s playing some unknown long con, and figure out if kitty wants a treat or maybe just something to kill a little? If so, your mind meld with your adorable, furious, frightened, shocked cat is not, as you may think, a crazy figment of your imagination. Cats do indeed have a full range of facial expressions that convey what they’re feeling, and according to researchers who’ve studied and categorized these expressions, they can easily be decoded.

The research into the categorizing and defining of distinctive cat facial expressions, which comes via Discover, was recently published in the journal  Behavioural Processes by a team from the University of Lincoln in the UK. In the paper’s abstract, the authors note that although the topic of deconstructing cats’ facial expressions has been broached before by a scientist named Paul Leyhausen — who is known for proposing the idea that “cats adopt humans into their social group… in which humans are reacted to as if they are at, or near, the top” — a rigorous cataloging of cat facial expressions has yet to be gathered. Until now.

The researchers utilized video recordings of 29 cats living in a Canadian animal shelter — which, by the sound of it, has Disneyland beat out for Happiest Place on Earth. 275 4-second videos were then analyzed using a Cat Facial Action Coding System or CatFACS program, which “is based on the facial anatomy of cats and has been adapted from the original FACS system used for humans.” That original FACS system is a way of categorizing the physical manifestations of various emotions on the human face.

According to the researchers, here are some expressions you can look out for when trying to decipher your own little furry killer:

“Facial actions associated with fear included blinking and half-blinking and a left head and gaze bias at lower intensities. Facial actions consistently associated with frustration 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. Relaxed engagement appeared to be associated with a right gaze and head turn bias.”

What do you think about this research into cat faces? Do you want to turn your cat into a catalog of muscle movements, or do you have a special connection that can’t be put into emojis? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured Image:  Wapiko/Flickr

Images:  Ioiez Deniel/Flickr,  Hkase/Flickr

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