We know that cats have individual personalities just like people. Over the years various cat behaviour experts have broken down the domestic cat’s personality into various headings so that we can better understand our cat.
Researchers at the University of South Australia have come up with five personality traits for our beloved felines. They are somewhat like the “Big Five” personality traits for humans, namely: extroversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and neuroticism.
The Big Five personality traits for cats, they have decided, are:
Skittishness — this is somewhat like the heading of neuroticism for humans. Skittish cats are more anxious and fearful than normal whereas cats who are more trusting and calm would have a low score under this heading.
Outgoingness — the equivalent human personality characteristic is extroversion. These cats are curious and active. Cats who score low under “outgoingness” tend to be “aimless” and “quitting”. Comment: I’m not sure that we can assess cats as “aimless” or “quitting”. That would seem hard to do. I do not really recognise these characteristics in the cats that I have lived with. It would be easy to misinterpret boredom as aimlessness and a lack of interest as quitting.
Dominance — we know about this characteristic. Some cats are more dominant than others. This is a personality trait given to cats alone according to the researchers. Under this heading cats who are more aggressive and possibly bullying received higher scores in the personality test. Cats who are more submissive would score low under this heading. Comment: I would have thought that this heading also applies to people. I know one or two bullies and one of them lives with a cat photographer! I disagree with the researchers in this respect.
Spontaneity — this is another personality trait which is meant to be cat-specific. Cats who score high under this heading are more impulsive and erratic. Predictable and “constrained” cats would score low under this heading.
Friendliness — this is the same as agreeableness in people. Affectionate cats are friendly whereas irritable and more solitary cats are less friendly and would score poorly for friendliness.
The researchers found, not unexpectedly, that most domestic cats occupy the middle ground in terms of personality meaning that they fell somewhere in the middle ranking for each personality factor (see below).
The study found that older cats tended to be slightly more dominant and less outgoing than younger cats. Between genders there were no significant differences and neither were there any differences between cats in New Zealand and Australia (i.e. cat personality was not affected by the country where the cat lived).
Importantly, the researchers felt, a personality trait was not dependent upon whether the cat was an indoor or indoor/outdoor cat. In other words, the cat’s personality is not affected by whether they are full-time indoor cats or not. Comment: I’m not sure about this observation. I would have thought that a cat’s personality would be affected by whether they are full-time indoors or not because personality is moulded by both inheritance and life experience (nature, nurture). However, I suppose that a cat’s personality is fixed from the first seven weeks or so of the cat’s life. Although, I’m convinced that for a cat who is naturally active being full-time indoors, let’s say in a small home, will make the cat more passive and possibly make him feel more stressed which may come through in a personality trait such as aggression.
The researchers say that the people who took part in the study worried that keeping their cats inside full-time would affect their cat’s personality negatively. However, as mentioned, they say it does not based upon their findings.
Cat personality assessment probably does help in how a person looks after their cat. For example, if a cat is skittish then it is more important that a hiding place is provided for that cat so that he/she can feel comfortable when feeling anxious. This is one example of how the test may help.
On the downside of this topic, a good cat caretaker will know their cat’s personality not in terms of headings and specific traits as referred to but in an overall sense. They would argue that you don’t need a test like this. In addition, the only way you can draw up such a test is by the cat’s owner assessing their cat and it may be difficult for that person to be objective or skilled enough to do it justice which may undermine the results.
Search results on PoC for “personality” (lots of interesting articles)
Note: The study concerned 2,800 domestic cats who were assessed on a scale of 1 to 10 for 52 different characteristics. It was reported in the Washington Post.