Science Can you read your cat? Scientists claim cats DO have facial expressions but most humans are really bad at interpreting them - Science

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Do you spend hours watching cat videos and wondering what they are thinking?

A new study has revealed that cats 'do have facial expressions' but many people struggle to interpret what they mean.

You can tell a hissing cat is probably unhappy and a purring cat is in a good mood, but it's not been easy to tell the way a feline is feeling from the look on its face.

Researchers in Canada asked more than 6,000 people from 85 countries to watch clips of cats and say whether their facial expressions were negative or positive.

Cats have a reputation for being 'hard to read' and animal behaviour experts from the University of Guelph say their study backs this reputation up.

Participants were presented with a short video of a cat and asked whether its facial expression was positive, negative or to say if they don't know. The next screen revealed whether they were correct. In this case the cat was feeling negative as a screen door had frustrated its attempts to come indoors.

Participants were presented with a short video of a cat and asked whether its facial expression was positive, negative or to say if they don't know. The next screen revealed whether they were correct. In this case the cat was feeling negative as a screen door had frustrated its attempts to come indoors.

'I developed the idea from my conviction — right or wrong — that I can tell when my own cats are happy,' says Georgia Mason, a professor in the University of Guelph's Department of Animal Biosciences.

'I think many cat owners share this feeling.'

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. They also removed any audio.

The study didn't involve participants having to guess whether a cat was happy, sad, hungry or angry - they just had to say whether it was a positive or negative emotion showing on its face.

You can find out if you are a 'cat whisper' or 'purrfectly useless' at reading feline facial expressions by taking the survey published by the University of Guelph, (warning, there are spoilers below).
Researchers watched hours of YouTube cat videos to find ones with specific negative and positive scenarios. This cat is POSITIVE as it has sought out what owner describes as a favourite toy, and is now playing with it

Researchers watched hours of YouTube cat videos to find ones with specific negative and positive scenarios. This cat is POSITIVE as it has sought out what owner describes as a 'favourite toy', and is now playing with it
This is a POSITIVE cat that is approaching its owner, who is holding out a bag of treats


This is a POSITIVE cat that is approaching its owner, who is holding out a bag of treats
This is a POSITIVE cat that has just approached a toy and is now playing with it

This is a POSITIVE cat that has just approached a toy and is now playing with it
The team examined YouTube videos with obvious positive and negative scenarios then isolated just the face of the cat to present to the participant. In this case the cat had just approached its owner and had its tail up
It revealed that the majority of people surveyed only got about 60 per cent of the expressions correct with just 13 per cent scoring above 75 per cent.

This suggests cats really do have facial expressions, but most people are very bad at reading them, according to researchers.

'Cats are telling us things with their faces, and if you're really skilled, you can spot it', Dr Mason told the Wall Street Journal.

'I think the cats really have these consistent facial expressions that probably they've evolved. People are reliably seeing something that is true and valid. But what is it?'

They had a mixture of negative and positive faces to present to participants. In this case the cat had a negative expression as it was retreating to avoid contact with its owner
This is a NEGATIVE cat that is frustrated as it has been prevented from reaching food by being placed on a moving treadmill

This is a NEGATIVE cat that is frustrated as it has been prevented from reaching food by being placed on a moving treadmill
This is a NEGATIVE cat as it has just been judged by a veterinarian to be in pain

This is a NEGATIVE cat as it has just been judged by a veterinarian to be in pain

The study found that vets and animal experts were the best group at identifying feline facial expressions due to the fact they work with them all the time.

'They could be naturally brilliant, and that's why they become vets,' Dr Mason told the Wall Street Journal.

'But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they've got a lot of 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?'
This cat is NEGATIVE as it is  just about to vomit up semi-digested food

This cat is NEGATIVE as it is just about to vomit up semi-digested food
This is another NEGATIVE cat as it is struggling to escape from restraint (a towel wrap at a veterinary clinic)

This is another NEGATIVE cat as it is struggling to escape from restraint (a towel wrap at a veterinary clinic)
Using YouTube videos helped to ensure the animals 'were behaving in a cat-typical way', cat behaviour expert, Kristyn Vitale, told the Wall Street Journal.

Dr Vitale was not involved in the study beyond taking the survey.

She said she achieved a perfect score because she takes facial expressions into account 'all the time' when working with cats in her lab at Oregon State University.

Cat owners made up the majority of people taking the survey and so owning a cat doesn't appear to be any indication of ability to recognise their expressions, according to researchers.

Dr Mason says the results are important because people tend to bond less with cats than dogs and so treat them more casually.

She said finding evidence that cats can make facial expressions that can be detected could lead to better education and tools to help vets and pet owners.

Article (Archive)

You can find further details about this important study, and take the test to help you train in recognizing the inner feelings of felines, at this website.
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Slappy McGherkin

Bartender? Make that a double.
True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
Cats are easy to read if you're around them enough and pay attention to how they behave.
Absolutely. In addition to facial expressions, each has their own personality, just like people. You see it even more when you have several cats. (pleads the 5th on being an old crazy cat person with 10 feral/rescues)

20190708_191627[1].jpg
Diego saying "I love you, dad!"

20190730_190417[1].jpg
Trixie evaluating stealing my lap instead of the blanket.

20191116_170514[1].jpg

JuJu "Yes, I'm the alpha male."

On Edit: I went and took the silly survey just for shits and giggles. Scored 8/8 correct. The key to every single one of the pictures is looking at the position of the cat's ears. Every negative, you'll see the ears pulled towards the back and apprehensive. Every positive, the ears are full forward and inquisitive or relaxed.
 
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Spastic Colon

Krampus' Little Helper
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I was feeling all smug because I got all of them right. Then I did the bonus round and I'm back to realizing that I don't really know cats at all. Luckily I have dogs and they are much easier to read. Cats are kind of assholes, but that is what I like about them. Would love to have one someday (but I've got a dog that has a high prey drive and it would not end well with a cat right now).
 

Norvic

too gay to lift
True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
I was feeling all smug because I got all of them right. Then I did the bonus round and I'm back to realizing that I don't really know cats at all. Luckily I have dogs and they are much easier to read. Cats are kind of assholes, but that is what I like about them. Would love to have one someday (but I've got a dog that has a high prey drive and it would not end well with a cat right now).
The only bonus round question I got wrong was the first one, mainly because I decided the pre-attack butt wiggle cats do was a "negative" because they're about to attack something.
 
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