What Does Your Pet Say About You?

Studies point out personality differences between cat, dog people.

ByABC News
February 8, 2010, 6:44 PM

Feb. 9, 2010— -- Are bookish people more likely to be cat lovers than dog lovers?

Maybe so. New research from the United Kingdom's Bristol University found that people with a college degree or higher were more likely to own cats than dogs.

In a study intended to determine the dog and cat populations in the U.K., researchers found that of 2,524 households polled, 47 percent of those with a cat had at least one person educated to degree level versus 38 percent of homes with dogs.

"It's possible that it might have something to do with working hours. If you're educated to a higher level, perhaps you're working a longer day and having a longer commute to work. Maybe you don't have enough time to care for a dog," said Jane Murray, the study's lead author and lecturer in epidemiology, adding that her team looked at household income too, but didn't find any significant differences.

She emphasized, however, that it was all speculation.

"Someone else suggested dog owners tend to be outdoor people and maybe less inclined to study, but we don't know," she said.

But while Murray's study only hints at personality differences between cat people and dog people, a study published in January explores the issue more explicity.

"People are always asking me, what is the difference between dog people and cat people," said Sam Gosling, a University of Texas at Austin psychologist who focuses on human personality. "I assumed there would be some research. And there was some research but no clear answers. We thought, 'okay, let's take a look.'"

So Gosling and his team asked 4,565 volunteers if they were dog people, cat people, neither or both. And then they administered a personality test that assessed the so-called "Big Five" personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Pets Allow for Expression of Personality Traits

He said that they deliberately sought out volunteers on neutral territory, as opposed to previous researchers who questioned pet owners in results-skewing veterinarians' offices. He also pointed out that they did not interview cat and dog owners necessarily, but let people self-identify.

Gosling said that while the study did find differences between those who described themselves as cat people and those who identified as dog people, "it didn't portray one to be more positive than the other."

Those who self-identified as "dog people" were 15 percent more extraverted, 13 percent more agreeable and 11 percent more conscientious than their cat-loving counterparts.

"Cat people" were generally about 12 percent more neurotic and 11 percent more open than the dog folks.

"These are very broad dimensions," Gosling said. "Open", for example, refers to the willingness to try new things, he said, and "conscientious" refers to thinking before acting and planning. And he acknowledged that the study only speaks in general terms, there are many cat owners more extroverted than dog owners and dog owners more neurotic than cat owners.

Still, he said, just as some people are drawn to libraries over, say, monster truck rallies, some people prefer activities associated with cats over those associated with dogs. All allow for the expression of personality traits.

"Extroversion and agreeableness play out in social interactions," he said. "It makes sense to have a species that is sociable and the keeping of a dog affords and promotes socializing in people."