Most people think of cats as fairly inscrutable. Cat owners learn to read body language, as the predators keep their faces still and let their emotions come out in their tails. While it’s true that cats don’t use facial expressions the way people do, there are subtle changes in a cat’s face that can give away their feelings. However, few people can reliably read those facial expressions. A recent experiment in which 6329 people were shown close-up images of cats’ faces without the rest of their body or environmental context clues, the average score was only 59%, revealing that people are not good at reading a cat’s face.
So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.
“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”
Do you think you have what it takes to be a cat whisperer? You can take an online version of the test to see if you outscore the average participant.
(Image credit: Luke Rogers)