Can being a 'cat person' or a 'dog person' reveal your true personality? New research suggests that it says more about us than we realise.
What your pet says about your personality
Pet owners have been pigeonholed for almost as long as cats and dogs have been domesticated. If you're a cat person, you must surely be aloof, cautious and independent, and if you're a dog lover you're more friendly, playful and loyal, right?
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin recently set out to examine whether these ideas hold any truth. Using a global online survey, they asked 4,500 people to identify themselves as a cat person, dog person, neither or both. Then they had to pick which characteristics best fitted them – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness or neuroticism. The results were almost exactly as you'd expect. The majority of respondents who said they were more introverted and sensitive turned out to be cat people, while those who thought of themselves as extroverted and agreeable were typically dog fans. In follow-up studies, researchers found supporting evidence that dog lovers are also lively and follow rules, while cat people are more inhibited and non-conformist. And, in one controversial finding, cat people scored higher on intelligence tests than dog people!
So what's behind these results? Here are three insights into a typical cat person. See if they suit you…
1. Feline fans are distinctly different
The above studies all found that those who identified as dog people provided similar answers to those who identified as both dog and cat people, and to those who said that they were neither. But cat people's responses were distinctly different from all other groups.
The researchers argue that this might show that cat people are more individualistic. They have a theory that because owning a dog is a widespread, popular choice, dog people tend to conform more, and lean towards more socially desirable personality traits as a result. Conventional dog lovers also perceived cat people's open-mindedness and creativity as eccentric. On the flip side, the researchers found that cat people generally looked down on those they thought were more narrow-minded. Much like their cats, they felt that being independent and standing out from the crowd should be considered a positive thing.
2. Cat lovers are intellectually curious
In a study by Carroll University, Wisconsin, psychologists found that cat people were generally more educated and also scored higher on intelligence tests. So does this really mean that cat owners are smarter than their dog-loving counterparts? Not necessarily – it might just be that, like their pets, they have a tendency to be more curious.
As proof, the study pointed to the ideas at the root of cat people stereotypes in popular culture, particularly the 'crazy cat lady'. Dating as far back as medieval times, the phrase has often been applied to women who've gone aginst the norm and challenged traditional roles. That intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to follow their own path, led to a perception that they were a little strange too.
The researchers also found that cat lovers are naturally more introverted. Unlike dog owners, who tend to head outdoors or seek out opportunities for social interaction, cat people said they prefer to curl up with their pets and a good book. This choice for more bookish hobbies means that cat people are likely to seek out educational opportunities, and may therefore come across as clever.
3. Cat people are complex characters
All of these findings highlight that cat owners are often a mix of contradictory traits, making them more complex than their generally straightforward dog-loving friends. For example, while the research shows that cat owners are introverted and can even be prone to neuroticism, they were unexpectedly also found to be more open to new experiences.
Psychologists believe this is because dog people tend to believe that the world is quite structured and hierarchical. Cat owners don't see it this way and so they're more likely to give new things a go – even if they do so in a quieter, less extroverted, manner. While the researchers caution that all of these findings are generalisations (going so far as to say that differences among cat people would likely be as big as the differences between cat and dog people) one thing is clear: like their pets, cat owners like to do things on their own terms.