I had just finished delivering a talk about how people's personalities predict which dog breeds they are most likely to get along with best. As part of that talk I had mentioned some evidence that indicated that the personalities of cat loving people and dog loving people are different (click here for more about that).
When we opened the session for questions and comments one man rose and asked "If the personality differences between cat people and dog people are real, then perhaps if I mentioned some famous or well-known people you could predict whether or not they owned a dog or a cat."
I am always up for a challenge and so I agreed to try. He started off by asking about Edgar Allen Poe, who is famous for his horror and detective stories. I predicted that Poe would have had a cat, and the man nodded and told me that I was correct.
He then asked about Lenin. I replied, "Well that's not fair since I read an article which said that John Lennon had both dogs and cats. I can make a prediction about another one of the Beatles, Ringo Starr, and although I never read about his pets I would guess that he preferred dogs."
The man corrected me by saying, "No I was referring to Vladimir Lenin," which caused a bit of laughter in the room (at my expense). Mistaking a rock star for a historical revolutionary is a bit embarrassing, however I predicted that Lenin would have owned a cat, and my questioner nodded to say that I was correct and then asked me what I based my answers upon.
There has been a lot of research about personalities of people who own different kinds of pets and it does begin to paint a fairly consistent picture. However, his question gave me the opportunity to discuss a new piece of research which has just been published by a team of researchers headed by Andrea Guastello of the Psychology Department at the University of Florida. These researchers gave a personality test to 418 undergraduates along with a test which determined their preferences for dogs versus cats. The interesting thing about this study is that the particular personality test which they used (the 16 Personality Factors Questionnaire or 16PF) allowed a more detailed analysis of personality types then the previous research which only concentrated on the five major personality traits.
To make the study a bit more sensitive to the differences between cat people and dog people, individuals who liked both types of pets were eliminated from the analysis as were people who disliked both dogs and cats. As is the case in many similar large-scale personality studies, a massive amount of statistical analysis was done on the data, however for our purposes we can isolate a few important findings (which actually formed the basis of my predictions of the pet preferences of famous people).
Consistent with previous research, these researchers found that dog people were more extroverted and outgoing. They tended to have a richer social life. The dog people were also more tough-minded, meaning that they tended to focus more on situations rather than on emotions. However, because this particular personality test involves 16 separate personality factors it is possible to use the results to paint a fairly detailed picture of the differences between dog lovers and cat lovers. Please understand that these differences were not so large that we can replace normal personality testing with the simple question of "Do you like dogs or cats better?" However, the results were statistically significant and presented an interesting and consistent pattern.
When the researchers stepped back to get a global view of their results they were able to illustrate the precise differences between these two groups of pet owners. I think it is best to let them express their conclusions in their own words.
Taken together, these findings describe the personalities of the average cat person as shy, solitary, impersonal, serious, and nonconformist, but also creative, sentimental, independent, and self-sufficient. Conversely, these findings describe dog people as grounded, pragmatic, and dutiful, as well as warm, outgoing, sociable, expressive, and group oriented.
Using these personality profiles I was able to predict that the private and sombre creative writer, Edgar Allen Poe, and the nonconformist, serious and self-sufficient revolutionary Vladimir Lenin would most likely be cat people. Conversely the fun-loving, sociable and down-to-earth musician Ringo Starr would most likely be a dog person. It is an interesting exercise to see how well these personality profiles match the cat people and dog people that you know.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Gods, Ghosts and Black Dogs; The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome
Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission
Andrea D. Guastello, Denise D. Guastello, & Stephen J. Guastello, (2017). Personality Differences between Dog People and Cat People. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 1, 41-57