Recently, Michigan State University published a paper on the personality of dogs. The researchers found that, despite long-time assumptions, dogs actually do not have a “stable personality”. Their personality can change over time due to life events, but also due to the personality of the dog owner. Of course, sharing this interesting bit of information during lunch time sparked a classic discussion: which are better pets? Dogs or cats? The discussion was settled when the majority of the lunch partners concluded to be dog persons – leaving the self-identified cat persons to feel a bit uncomfortable.
But it did make me wonder. Why is it that we always define ourselves as “dog persons” and “cat people”? Does that make any sense? Are there actual differences between the two personality types?
Dog days are over
Luckily, I am not the only person who has wondered about this. In 2010, Gosling (not Ryan), Sandy (not Grease), and Potter (not Harry) asked themselves the same question. Online, 4565 respondents completed the Big Five Inventory (BFI-44), assessing the Big Five personality traits (i.e. openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). Gosling, Sandy and Potter also asked participants to indicate whether they identified themselves as a dog or a cat person, both, or neither. Interestingly, not only the majority of my lunch partners indicated to be dog persons. The majority of the respondents did as well. A quick overview:
- 2088 out of 4565 respondents identified themselves as a dog person (58,6% female).
- 527 out of 4565 respondents identified themselves as a cat person (68,1% female).
- 1264 out of 4565 respondents indicated to be both a dog and cat person (69,1% female).
- 686 out of 4565 respondents indicated to be neither a dog or cat person (63,1% female).
Dogs versus cats
Thus, the question is whether “dog persons” and “cat persons” really differ in personality. Analyses by Gosling, Sandy and Potter (2010) reveal that this might indeed be the case. Differences were found in all Big Five personality traits. Dog persons scored significantly higher on conscientiousness (p < .001, d = .27), extraversion (p < .001, d = .40) and agreeableness (p < .001, d = .33) as compared to cat persons. Furthermore, dog persons scored significantly lower on neuroticism (p < .001, d = .30) and openness (p < .001, d = .27) compared to cat persons.
(Additional analyses also revealed no gender differences. This led to another interesting thought: if there are no gender differences, does that mean that there are not only crazy cat ladies, but also crazy cat gentlemen? Perhaps better to not get into that now).
There really are two kinds of people
To summarize, dog persons tend to score higher on conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness, and lower on neuroticism and openness as compared to cat persons. But how can we explain that? Do we actively associate different personality traits with cats or dogs, or is there another way of explaining this relationship? Why do we even feel the need to identify ourselves with a pet? These are all interesting questions for future research.
Finally, it would be interesting to examine other characteristics as well. In the study by Gosling, Sandy and Potter (2010), only the Big Five personality traits were incorporated. But what about characteristics such as loyalty, humour, patience and so on? Are such differences also to be found among dog persons and cat persons? All with all, plenty of options for future research!
Have you ever thought about “dog persons” and “cat persons” from a scientific perspective? What do you think about it? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
If you are interested in reading the literature used for this post, references and links are provided here:
Gosling, S. D., Sandy, C. J., & Potter, J. (2010). Personalities of self-identified “dog people” and “cat people”. Anthrozoös, 23(3), 213-222.