During their study, researchers observed that cats exhibited more frequent “positive” behaviors – purring, rubbing or sitting on their owner’s lap and spending more time with them – when their owner was smiling. Frowns seemed to produce the opposite effect in the cats.

Researchers also noticed that these cats exhibited similar “positive” behaviors when placed with strangers, regardless of whether the strangers were smiling – as if they were giving the strangers the benefit of the doubt or were trying to put their best foot forward.

All of this suggests that cats can learn how to read owner specific facial expressions over time.

Researchers were careful to note, however, that their findings do not mean cats are capable of feeling empathy. Instead, it seems to indicate that cats have learned to associate their owners’ smiles with rewards and positive attention.