Jan. 14, 2010 -- Are you a "cat person" or a "dog person"? Even people who don't own either pet tend to self-identify as one or the other, and the answer may say something about their personalities, a study shows.
As a rule, dogs are more social and eager to please, while cats are more introverted and curious.
In the new study, self-described cat and dog people appeared to share these traits.
"Even though we have this widely held idea that dog people and cat people are somehow different, we haven't really known how they are different and previous research has failed to tell us," psychologist and study researcher Sam Gosling, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, tells WebMD.
He believes this is because earlier studies examined personality differences in cat and dog owners, failing to account for the fact that a dog person may actually own a cat and vice versa.
As part of a larger online personality survey, Gosling and colleague Carson J. Sandy, asked about 4,500 people if they considered themselves dog people or cat people.
The 44-question survey delved into the five dimensions of personality thought to encompass the spectrum of personality types:
- Conscientiousness. Common behaviors include self-discipline, sense of duty, and a tendency toward planned vs. spontaneous behavior.
- Extraversion. Tendency toward being gregarious, enthusiastic, positive, and energetic.
- Agreeableness. Includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and sociability.
- Openness. Includes traits such as appreciation for the arts, curiosity, creativity, and nontraditional thinking and behavior.
- Neuroticism. Includes characteristics such as being easily stressed, anxious, or easily worried.
"In terms of personalities I would say Woody Allen is at one end of this spectrum and the "Dude" from the Big Lebowski is at the other," Gosling says.
Forty-six percent of those who took the survey identified themselves as dog people, while 12% said they were cat people. Twenty-eight percent said they were both and 15% said they were neither.
Cat People vs. Dog People
According to the findings, self-identified dog people were 15% more extroverted, 13% more agreeable, and 11% more conscientious than cat people.
Cat people were about 12% more neurotic and 11% more open than dog people.
"These are not huge differences," Gosling says. "There are certainly many, many cat people who are extroverts and many, many dog people who aren't."
But he adds that the findings may have broader implications in the field of pet therapy, suggesting that personality screening may help match people in need with the most appropriate animal.
The study will be published later this year in the journal Anthrozoos.
Film producer Susan Williams, of Atlanta, owns a dog and two cats, but she is firmly entrenched in the canine camp.
"Neither of my cats likes me much because they know I don't get them," she says.
Her 9-year-old daughter, Ella, on the other hand, could probably qualify as a '"cat whisperer."
"Outside the house I rarely see a cat because they know I'm a dog person, but any cat within a block of her will find her."
Williams says she definitely believes dog people, as a rule, are more extroverted and agreeable and that cat people are more introverted.
"I'm a flight, not fight person," she says. "To avoid an argument, I'll agree with you if you tell me the sky is green."