Categories: cat personality

Study which shows that cats reflect their owner’s personality is flawed

The internet reports a study conducted at the universities of Lincoln and Nottingham Trent which concluded that the personalities of domestic cats reflect the personalities of their owner. They used a questionnaire to come to this decision. I think the study is inherently flawed. They say, for example, that if a cat owner is neurotic they will assess their cat companion as having behavioural problems. They say that people who are nuerotic think that their cats are more aggressive, anxious and suffer from more stress-related sicknesses. They also say that their cats are liable to be overweight. What these researchers are saying is that the cat is following the human and becoming nuerotic and eating too much and becoming overweight.

Anxious cat. Due to poor environment or because the cat’s personality follows owner’s personality?

However, the alternative viewpoint is that the neurotic owner perceives their cat as being anxious and fearful because that is how they perceive the world. Another alternative viewpoint is that as neurotic people behave in a neurotic manner they create an environment which makes their cat neurotic. This is not a cat’s personality following the personality of their owner but a cat becoming nuerotic because they live in an environment which is unpleasant. It’s cause-and-effect rather than a human personality rubbing off on to a domestic cat.

On the other side of the coin, the researchers concluded that owners who are conscientious have cats that were less anxious, less aggressive and engaged in less avoidance behaviours. Once again I think this is cause-and-effect. If an owner is well-balanced and conscientious themselves i.e. as normal as is possible, then they create an environment which is conducive to a domestic cat being reasonably content. This is displayed in a lack of anxiety and a lack of aggressiveness. The cat is less likely to avoid people because the person that they are interacting with is pleasant towards them.

This aspect of the study is not discussed, as far as I can see, on the internet. I think we have to be very cautious about the personalities of cats following that of their owners because very often people project their personality onto their companion animals. They want the animal to be like them and they create this in their minds. The problem with this study is that it is based upon a questionnaire. Surely this is a very dangerous way to proceed when assessing something as tricky as domestic cat personality? There should have been objective measurements of the personalities of both person and cat together with an assessment as to the cat’s environment as measured by a cat behvviour expert. This appears not to be the case but I will defer to a better opinion if I’m incorrect.

Incidentally, I am not saying that there is no possibility of a cat’s personality following the personality of their human companion. I am just saying that this study does not prove it.

Dr. Lauren Finka, postdoctoral researcher in animal welfare in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, worked on the research while studying at Lincoln and co-authored the study with Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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