Almost every week, or so it seems, a study is published on the tastes, habits, and behaviors of cats, and why not? The mysterious presence of domesticated felines fascinates humans and inundates social media. According to Forbes Advisor, there are 46.5 million domestic cats in the United States (dogs amount to 65.1 million).

Among the many studies, one worth reading is the research published in the journal Behavioral Processes, conducted by Lauren Scott of the University of Kansas Medical Center. According to Scott’s research, cats use nearly 300 distinct facial expressions to communicate with each other.

With the help of her co-author, evolutionary psychologist Brittany Florkiewicz of Lyon College, Lauren Scott analyzed these expressions, counting 276 expressions composed of a combination of 26 facial movements. Approximately 45% (126) were classified as friendly, 37% as aggressive, and 18% as ambiguous.

The Scott-Florkiewicz study is interesting because, unlike others that focus on signals indicating communication between cats and humans (every cat owner longs to know if their feline friend is ignoring them or trying to convey something), or perhaps communication between cats and other species, it aims to understand what cats communicate to each other. It is based on the assumption that domesticated cats have developed a certain number of interactive signals compared to their wild ancestors to facilitate social interaction. Therefore, the hypothesis to be tested was whether there were substantial differences between the facial signals that cats use with each other and those they use with other species (such as dogs, birds, and humans). The researchers worked with 53 adult cats at the CatCafé Lounge, a shelter for stray cats and felines awaiting adoption, founded in 2018 in Los Angeles.

By disturbing their snacks and naps and using specifically designed Facial Action Coding Systems for facial signal recognition, they collected 194 minutes of footage with 186 “communicative events.” In these events, they cataloged 688 facial signals, with 354 occurring in a friendly context.

The results confirm the hypothesis. Domestic cats often use non-friendly communication codes with their peers, but they also display crucial friendly behaviors for their social relationships. The researchers conclude that the transition to domestic life likely had a significant impact on the evolution of a wide repertoire of facial signals used in contact with other cats.

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