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The Differences That Set Cat People and Dog People Apart

Cat people are solitary and sentimental. Dog people are outgoing and sociable.

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Source: SupportPDX photo-Creative Commons License

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, so I agreed to try. He first asked about Edgar Allen Poe, and 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, 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: I would guess that he preferred dogs."

The man corrected me: "No I was referring to Vladimir Lenin," which caused a bit of laughter in the room at my expense; however, I predicted that Lenin would have owned a cat, and my questioner nodded that I was correct, and asked me what I based my answers upon.

There has been a lot of research about the personalities of people who own different pets, and it does 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 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 that they used—the 16 Personality Factors Questionnaire, or 16PF—allowed a more detailed analysis of personality types than 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, this study found that dog people were more extroverted and outgoing, and tended to have a richer social life. Dog people were also more tough-minded, meaning that they tended to focus more on situations, rather than 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, 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. 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."

Elena Nichizhenova/Shutterstock
Source: Elena Nichizhenova/Shutterstock

Based on these personality profiles I was able to predict that Poe, the private and somber writer, and the nonconformist, serious, and self-sufficient revolutionary Lenin would most likely be cat people. Conversely, the sociable, down-to-earth musician 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 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

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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

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