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Cats make 276 unique expressions, study finds

Cats make 276 unique expressions, study finds
by Lucinda Beeman

Read time: 3 min

Hardcore cat parents? We know the looks. The ‘feed me immediately’ look. The ‘time to shred the blinds’ look. The ‘one more stroke and you’re mincemeat’ look. 

And now scientists have confirmed what we’ve long known: cats are pretty expressive. 

Because according to evolutionary psychologists at Lyon University, Arkansas, domestic cats are capable of producing at least 276 morphologically distinct facial expressions.

Study co-author Brittany Florkiewics says, “Our study demonstrates that cat communication is more complex than previously assumed.”

And domestication only makes cats even more expressive – because they’ve had to live in such close proximity to people. And other cats. So they emote more than their wild counterparts.

This is according to data collected at a Los Angeles cat cafe, where 53 cats were filmed across 186 separate interactions. Their expressions were then assessed against a coding system designed especially for cats. Which looked at the number and types of facial movements each cat made. (Biological processes like breathing and yawning didn’t count.)

Florkiewics and the study’s lead author, medical student Lauren Scott, found that 45.7% of the expressions they coded were friendly. And 37% were aggressive. (Hey. We all have our moments.)

The next step? The study’s authors hope to conduct a follow-up study to decode even more expressions. And expand their sample size. 

Florkiewicz says, “Our hope is to expand our sample size to include cats living in other locations, looking at the facial expressions of cats living in multi-cat homes and feral colonies.”

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