Do cats share their owners personality?
The personalities of animal owners are reflected in their pets
A growing collection of studies has revealed that pets and owners share many of the same personality traits. This phenomenon could be explained by the shared experiences between humans and their beloved animals, or by the simple fact that people are drawn to pets that they feel resemble themselves.
“Given the tight psychological connections between people and their pets, it’s likely that dogs and cats are suited to different human personalities,” said University of Texas psychologist Sam Gosling.
In 2010, Gosling used an online survey to investigate the characteristics of people who identify as being either dog people or cat people. Based on the personality tests of 4,565 participants, Gosling concluded that “there is some truth to the widely held view that, in general, the personalities of dog people differ from those of cat people.”
Interestingly, the commonly perceived personality traits of pet owners were found to be pretty close to reality. For example, dog people were more extroverted, cooperative, empathetic, and thoughtful. Cat people were found to be more neurotic, took less interest in others, and were more manipulative. Some surprising results of the study, however, revealed that cat people were more adventurous and unconventional than dog people.
Dr. Stanley Coren conducted his own research and reported the findings in Psychology Today . While Gosling’s work was focused on the Big Five personality traits, Dr. Coren used the Interpersonal Adjective Scale to examine the social tendencies of pet owners. He noted similarities in the findings of both studies.
“The general pattern that comes out of both studies is that dog owners are more social, interactive, and accepting, and cat owners are more introverted, self-contained, and less sociable,” wrote Dr. Coren.
Earlier this year, researchers at Michigan State University surveyed the owners of 1,600 dogs, including 50 different breeds. The pet owners described their own personalities as well as the personalities and behavioral histories of their dogs.
The researchers discovered that dog personalities change over time and are influenced by their lifestyles and experiences as they grow older.
“Just like humans, dogs vary in their personalities. And they can potentially change over time. The dog you take home from the shelter isn’t the same dog you’ll have 10 years from now,” said lead author William Chopik.
The study also revealed that dog and owner personalities often mirror each other. Dogs who were anxious or aggressive were found to typically have owners who possessed negative personality traits, while active and outgoing dogs had owners who behaved the same way.
Chopik explained that people probably pick dogs that match their lifestyles, or that dog and human personalities merge over time as a result of shared lifestyles.
Psychologist Richard Wiseman also looked into the character traits of pets and their owners. He noted distinctive differences among the pet owners.”Fish owners were the happiest, dog owners the most fun to be with, cat owners the most dependable and emotionally sensitive, and reptile owners the most independent.”
Wiseman reported that most people attributed their own personality traits to their animals as well. This means that pet owners, whether dog people or cat people, look at their pets as a reflection of themselves.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Jaromir Chalabala
How Human Personality Can Affect Cats’ Behavior and Well-Being
Cats may benefit from having guardians with lower levels of neuroticism and higher levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness.
Summary By: Alex Higson | Published: April 26, 2019
When kept as companion animals, cats rely on humans to care for them, and that relationship generally involves some level of social interaction. Cats’ behavior and well-being can be affected by numerous factors, including their guardians’ personalities.
In this paper, the authors present the findings of a survey of cat guardians in the U.K., in which respondents completed a personality test that assessed their agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness, as well as reporting on their cat’s behavior and well-being. The researchers begin by establishing similarities between the cat-guardian relationship and the parent-child relationship, highlighting the associated impact on the well-being of cats and children, respectively. The findings demonstrate that guardian personality may have a significant effect on their interactions with their cats, the amount of freedom they give their animals, the cats’ behavior and health, and the potential well-being of companion animals more generally.
The researchers found that cats may benefit when their guardians have lower levels of neuroticism and higher levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness. For instance, guardians with higher agreeableness scores were more likely to be satisfied with their cats and report that they’re of normal weight. Cats who had more conscientious guardians displayed less anxious, aggressive, and aloof behavioral styles, and were more gregarious.
The study found that the opposite was also true: For example, guardians who were more neurotic were more likely to report that their cats had a medical condition, were overweight or very overweight, or displayed frequent stress-linked sickness behaviors, “behavioral problems,” or aggressive or anxious behavioral styles.
Guardian personality also appeared to affect cats’ access to the outdoors. For example, guardians with higher levels of neuroticism were more likely to keep their cats indoors—perhaps they are worried about the risks cats face outdoors. (This may mean that the personalities of cat guardians affect local wildlife, too, as domestic cats are prolific predators .) However, the authors recognize that cultural factors are also at play—in the U.K., giving cats outdoor access is common and generally seen as beneficial to their well-being.
As cats cannot self-report, the assessment of their welfare and behavior was based solely on their guardians’ reports and may, therefore, be subject to bias; the authors recommend follow-up studies with direct behavioral observations and collection of biological data. More research could also help confirm whether guardian personality directly influences cats’ behavioral responses or whether other factors interfere—for example, neurotic owners may have a more pessimistic view of their cats’ behavior.
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Author: Alex Higson
Alex Higson is an animal advocate based in London. She works and volunteers in the animal-protection movement and is interested in applying the principles of effective altruism in her efforts to help animals.
Finka, L. R., Ward, J., Farnworth, M. J., & Mills, D. S. (2019). Owner personality and the wellbeing of their cats share parallels with the parent-child relationship. PLoS ONE , 14 (2), e0211862. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211862
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The personalities of pets and owners
Pauleen Bennett — Professor and Head of Department, Psychology and Counselling, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University & Paul McGreevy — Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney
There’s an old saying that pets and their owners become more similar as time goes by. There may be some truth in that, but can we use information about owners to improve veterinary care?
Research is showing the health and welfare of pets can be influenced by personality traits in their owners.
More than 3,000 cat owners were measured across five areas: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness.
Those who scored highly on neuroticism were more likely to demonstrate a preference for pedigree rather than non-pedigree cats.
Neuroticism is associated with emotional instability. People high on this trait tend to be generally more anxious and moody than others and may also respond more poorly to stress, often overreacting to small challenges.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the same group were also more likely to report their cats were showing unwelcome behaviours. These included signs of aggression, anxiety and fearfulness and more stress-related sickness behaviours, as well as having more ongoing medical conditions and being overweight.
Other animal and human studies
Similar relationships have been observed elsewhere. Parents who score highly on neuroticism may be more likely to have children with clinical obesity.
When it comes to dogs, our own studies have shown that working dog handlers who score highly on neuroticism report more attendance at competitions but no greater success in farm dog performance.
And male owners with moderate depression are at least five times more likely than those without depression to use punitive and coercive training techniques such as hitting, kicking or yelling at their dogs.
The same group of men also reported their dogs as showing significantly more house-soiling (urination and defecation when left alone) and aggression towards other dogs.
These important differences in personality and ownership styles may have a bearing on the welfare of pets.
The recent cat study shows owners high in neuroticism are more likely to keep their pets indoors or restrict their access to the outdoors.
This may reflect heightened concern about the risk of road traffic accidents or other hazards. It could lead to improved cat welfare, but only if such diligence is accompanied by behavioural enrichment indoors, such as toys and puzzle feeders.
Owner personality may also influence how often a cat is taken to a veterinary clinic. Owners who score highly in neuroticism may be hypervigilant in the way they scrutinise their cats, which can lead to extra trips to the vet.
This could actually compromise cat welfare, because many cats don’t like trips to the vet. Even the sight of a carry-cage can cause increased anxiety and flight response in a cat.
On the other hand, such trips may lead to improved welfare if they result in better health, particularly if, upon arrival, the cats are subjected to low-stress handling.
Other findings from the cat study suggest some owner attributes may be associated with an extremely positive attitude towards their pets.
High scores for agreeableness were associated with cat owners tending to view their animals in a good light. These cats had fewer reported unwelcome behaviours and were less likely to be considered overweight.
Previous studies in dogs show owners are often poor judges of whether their pets are overweight or not.
Look to the owner
This evidence that attributes in the owner can influence how their pets are perceived, and the kind of life they experience, means anyone working with these animals needs some understanding of human psychology.
Behavioural change is often the first sign that an animal is unwell. One of the most revealing aspects of a case history is the behaviour changes that owners report.
The quality and accuracy of this information from owners on their pets is crucial. But this may be strongly influenced by the relationship that owners have with their pets, such as what they look for and the intensity of their appraisal.
This evidence that owner characteristics may influence many aspects of their pet’s life – including potentially how the pet presents to a veterinary clinic – prompts us to consider how we can improve the quality of data.
For clinical behaviour cases it is important to include video records of the animal’s unwelcome behaviour. Owners are already quite adept at capturing and supplying video evidence when consulting behavioural veterinarians.
But this video evidence can also help with veterinary consultations about other conditions such as neurological disorders and intermittent lameness.
There are tools that allow owners to capture and report data in real time, using apps such as doglogbook. They have the advantage of being simple to use and having a time/date stamp that may help to keep a chronological record of the owner’s observations.
A complex relationship
The relationship between owners and veterinarians can be extremely complex and take some time to mature. A veterinarian who knows both owner and pet well will be able to detect subtle clinical signs that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Yet each clinical case must now be understood in the context of the human background baggage that enters the consultation room.
It’s all too easy to overlook the role of the owner’s personality in their interactions with their pet, and how their personality may influence how they perceive the animals, how they manage the animals and how they concern themselves with the health status of the animals.
Further research will undoubtedly continue to provide new insights into the fascinating world of owner-pet relationships.
Originally published on The Conversation.
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