Can Cats Actually Tell if You’re a Good Person? The Surprising Truth Behind Their “6th Sense”


For centuries, cat owners have speculated that cats seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing who is a good person. While cats are known for being aloof and independent, many cat owners have stories of their beloved felines taking an immediate liking to visitors who turn out to be kind and trustworthy people. On the other hand, cats also seem to exhibit avoidance or aggression towards guests who the owner later learns have ill intentions or negative character traits. This phenomenon has led to speculation that cats have an innate ability to sense a person’s true nature and intentions. But is there any scientific evidence to support this idea of a “sixth sense” in cats?

In this article, we will explore what science has to say about cats’ ability to discern good people. We will look at cats’ extraordinary physical senses, their ability to read human body language, experimental studies on cats sensing emotions, anecdotal experiences of cat owners, possible scientific explanations, skeptical views, and potential applications if cats do have this innate talent. The aim is to shed light on the age-old question – can cats really detect good people?

Cats’ Extraordinary Senses

Cats have an impressive array of senses compared to humans. Their senses of smell, hearing, and touch are far more acute than humans’ capabilities. Cats have an extensive olfactory system and a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth that allows them to interpret pheromones and other scents. Their sense of smell is 14 times stronger than humans’ sense of smell. They have more odor-detecting genes than humans, allowing them to pick up scents that humans cannot detect. Cats can rotate their ears to hear sounds from any direction and hear higher frequencies than humans can detect. Their whiskers are finely attuned touch receptors that detect subtle changes in air currents around them. While humans rely primarily on their sense of sight, cats are masters of their other senses.

Cats’ Ability to Read Body Language

Studies have shown that cats are remarkably skilled at reading human body language and picking up on subtle cues that reveal our emotions. Cats are attentive to human eye contact, facial expressions, vocal tones, and posture. They seem to understand when humans are feeling happy, angry, sad, relaxed, or anxious.

For example, research has demonstrated that cats respond differently to smiling human faces compared to angry faces, indicating they can distinguish between the two emotions (Emotion Recognition in Cats). Cats also appear capable of recognizing positive emotions and affection based on visual and auditory signals. Their ability to read human body language likely developed as an adaptive advantage during the process of domestication.

Experiments with Cats and Emotions

Several studies have investigated cats’ ability to detect human emotional states and respond accordingly. A 2020 study published in the journal Animals found that cats spent significantly more time interacting with people exhibiting positive emotional cues compared to negative ones (Quaranta et al., 2020). When presented with happy facial expressions and voices from their owners, cats responded with friendly behaviors like purring, rubbing, and approaching closely. However, they tended to avoid angry expressions and scolding voices. This suggests cats can distinguish between positive and negative emotions.

Another study in 2023 showed cats had different sniffing responses depending on whether their owners were happy or sad (d’Ingeo et al., 2023). When owners were sad, cats spent more time sniffing the right nostril, indicating greater left brain activity associated with negative emotions and withdrawal responses. But they favored the left nostril more when owners were happy, reflecting right brain activity and approach responses. This demonstrates cats’ ability to sense human emotional states through subtle cues.

Anecdotal Evidence

There are many heartwarming anecdotes of cats bonding closely with kind humans. One story tells of a shy cat named Elsa who was adopted by a patient owner. Despite being timid at first, Elsa grew to trust her new human through gentle care and quality time together. Their bond grew so strong that the once-fearful Elsa became a constant companion who showered her human with affection (

Similarly, the story of Lord Henry and his cat Trixie illustrates an unbreakable bond between a cat and her loving human. Though pets were forbidden, Lord Henry’s wife smuggled Trixie into the household because of her ability to comfort him. Trixie stayed loyally by Lord Henry’s side until the very end, demonstrating a deep devotion that transcended rules or circumstances (

These stories and others like them suggest cats can forge profound connections with caring humans who put in the time and effort to gain their trust. While the evidence is anecdotal, the sheer number of accounts point to cats potentially sensing good-natured people open to deep bonding.

Possible Explanations

One possible explanation for cats sensing good people is their ability to detect human emotions and pheromones. Studies have shown that cats can recognize human facial expressions and seem attuned to their owners’ moods1. Cats may pick up on subtle cues like body language, tone of voice, and scent that give them insight into a person’s disposition. Pheromones secreted when humans experience happiness, fear, anxiety or other emotions can all potentially be detected by cats’ well-developed olfactory senses.

Similarly, cats may be responding to pheromones or subtle behavioral cues that allow them to detect aggressive, dangerous, or untrustworthy people. Their keen observational skills and sensitivity to nonverbal signals suggests cats can pick up on intentions and approachability in ways we don’t fully understand. More research is needed, but cats seem capable of distinguishing between good and bad people by assessing cues imperceptible to humans.

Skepticism and Limits

While some believe cats have an innate ability to judge human character, there are good reasons to be skeptical of this claim. Several factors could influence a cat’s behavior besides their assessment of someone’s personality.

For example, cats likely pick up on subtle cues like tone of voice, body language, and movement. Someone acting confident, gentle, and calm is more likely to gain a cat’s trust than someone who is erratic, tense, or aggressive. A person’s scent and appearance may also play a role.

Additionally, cats can develop preferences based on previous positive and negative experiences. If a cat has been abused or frightened by certain types of people in the past, they may be wary or avoidant of similar people in the future.

There is also the question of whether cats have enough cognitive sophistication to actually judge complex concepts like morality and character. While cats have good memories, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence, human personality may be too abstract for them to comprehend.

Overall, while some interesting anecdotes exist, there is no definitive scientific proof that cats can sense good and bad people. Apparent discernment may be attributed to other factors. More research would be needed to confirm cats possess this six sense about human character.

Practical Applications

Cats’ ability to sense emotions and moods in humans has some interesting practical applications, especially in the areas of adoption and therapy cats.

Animal shelters can potentially use cats’ sensitivity to humans as a way to facilitate better adoption matches. By observing how a cat responds to potential adopters, shelters can get a sense of the cat’s own preferences and whether an adopter’s energy seems to stress or comfort the cat. This can help increase adoption success rates and reduce returns if the cat and adopter are truly compatible matches.

Additionally, some therapists have begun incorporating specially trained “therapy cats” into their practices. Much like therapy dogs, these cats seem to intuit when clients are feeling anxious, sad, or upset. Their presence and reactions can help build rapport between client and therapist. Anecdotal reports indicate therapy cats boost mood and motivation during counseling sessions, while also reducing stress and putting clients at ease. More research is still needed, but initial findings suggest therapy cats may become an effective complementary treatment alongside traditional talk therapy, especially for depression, anxiety, and trauma.


In summary, there is some preliminary evidence suggesting that cats have an innate ability to detect human emotions and moods. Whether this constitutes “sensing a good person” is still up for debate. Cats likely rely on cues like body language, pheromones, tone of voice, and facial expressions to pick up on human emotional states. However, more scientific research is needed to understand the extent of cats’ empathic capabilities.

Future studies could explore whether cats respond differently to people experiencing positive emotions like happiness compared to negative ones like anger or anxiety. Researchers could also investigate if cats can detect subtle mood shifts within the same person over time. Additionally, examining how bonded a cat is with their owner seems to impact their sensitivity to that person’s internal state.

While cats do possess impressive sensory abilities we are still discovering, unequivocally stating they can recognize a “good person” may be an overreach. Their interspecies social intelligence appears complex, and likely stems from an evolutionary need to closely observe human behavior for survival. With further research, we can better understand the nuances of feline social cognition and how they perceive human personality.


[1] Coren, Stanley. How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind. 2004.

[2] Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. 2009.

[3] Miklósi, Ádám. Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. Oxford Biology, 2009.

[4] Bradshaw, John. Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. Basic Books, 2013.

[5] Cameron-Beaumont, Charlotte. The Secret Life of Your Cat: Understanding the Feline Mystique. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.

[6] McComb, Karen et al. “The Cry Embedded within the Purr.” Current Biology, vol. 19, no. 13, 2009, pp. R507-508.

[7] Vitale Shreve, Kristyn, and Uriah Vitale. The Laws of Human Nature. Penguin Books, 2019.

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