Dogs Vs. Cats

By Chandra Orr

February 11, 2011 5 min read

Are you a dog person or a cat person? It's a simple question, but your answer says a lot about you, according to a recent study published in the journal Anthrozo?s.

A team of researchers at the University of Texas, led by psychologist Sam Gosling, found that those who define themselves as "dog people" are more extraverted, more agreeable and more conscientious than their feline-loving counterparts. Self-described "cat people," by contrast, are more open, more creative and less traditional but also more neurotic.

"There is a widely held cultural belief that the pet species -- dog or cat -- with which a person has the strongest affinity says something about the individual's personality," Gosling says.

Stereotypes have long pegged dog lovers as more social and interactive with a craving for adoration -- think pack leader -- while cat people often are seen as reclusive or loners with a sensitive streak -- think crazy cat lady -- but this research is the first of its kind to offer hard data on the two personality types.

"Dog people" -- based on how people identified themselves, not on what animals they actually own -- tend to be more outgoing and social, whereas "cat people" are more curious, creative and philosophical.

It's a notion with which pet lovers agree.

"There are dog people, and there are cat people; neither is nobler. They are simply different," says Peg Silloway, author of "The Cat Lover's Book of Days: A Year of Cat History, Lore, and Laughter." "Dog people enjoy the adoration and unquestioning loyalty of a dog. People who are always part of a group have the same pack mentality as dogs, so they enjoy having canines in their home. Cat people are comfortable with a creature who doesn't need them or anyone else but who is loving and loyal to a person who has earned its trust and affection."

"This research suggests there are significant differences on major personality traits between dog people and cat people," Gosling says. "Given the tight psychological connections between people and their pets, it is likely that the differences between dogs and cats may be suited to different human personalities."

In other words, the distinct temperament and daily needs of the pet play a big part in the equation. Dog lovers boast that canines are unwavering in their loyalty and affection and don't need litter boxes, while cat lovers brag that felines are independent, quiet and self-cleaning.

"Dogs are much more of an emotional animal in that they require you to be their leader and to interact with them as such," says writer Kelly Meister, who has a blog, "Kelly's Critter Talk," about the human-animal connection. "Dog people seem to want more of an emotional connection with their pet. Independent-minded folks and those on the go are likelier to be cat people because cats are perceived as low-maintenance pets. It's possible that cat lovers prefer cats because the relationship is such an uncomplicated one; we often don't have a lot to give cats, in terms of time and energy, and they seem willing to take whatever we do offer without complaining."

Larry Kay, co-author of "The Love That Dog Training Program: Using Positive Reinforcement to Train the Perfect Family Dog," has a more lighthearted take on the matter. "If dogs and cats were politicians, then dogs would be loyalists and cats would be independents," he says. "If dogs and cats were restaurant critics, then dogs would be gourmands -- good cheap eats -- and cats would be gourmets -- only the trendiest restaurants."

For Gosling's study, more than 4,500 volunteers were asked whether they were dog people, cat people, neither or both. Based on their responses to a 44-point assessment, participants were rated on five personality dimensions -- openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, which in this context relates to emotional sensitivity and the ability to experience unpleasant emotions easily.

Forty-six percent of respondents described themselves as dog people, and 12 percent said they were cat people. Almost 28 percent said they were both, and 15 percent said they were neither. Dog people scored higher on extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness, and cat people scored higher on openness and neuroticism.

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