Dogs have a reputation for being happy-go-lucky little (or big) balls of fur who will love and support you pretty much no matter what. Cats, on the other hand...don't.
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But if you're a cat person, you know that one of the things cat people love so much about cats is that they have such unique personalities. While every dog seems capable of forging a bond with just about every human, cats are different. They're particular. They're choosy about who they love and whom they have a good relationship with.
But while cat lovers everywhere want to have that most magical of bonds with their feline friends...do they? Well, science has stepped in, as it graciously does at times, to answer a great pet-related mystery: Do you have a good relationship with your cat? Are you really their fave?
In a 2018 study from the University of Liverpool, researchers set out to learn more about the bond between humans and cats by recruiting 126 cat owners to survey about their personalities, their cats' personalities, and how happy they were with their cat-human relationship. For the study, researchers only spoke to cat owners who picked out their cat themselves (as opposed to people who were given a cat as a gift, for example). Fair enough, scientists. No arranged marriage-style cat-human relationships allowed for this study.
It's also worth noting (just because it's interesting—not because it changes the results of the study in any way), that of the 126 people in the study, 115 were women, which isn't really that surprising since there's also science that suggests women bond better with cats than men do on the whole anyway.
Anyway, back to the "how good is your relationship with your cat" study. Participants were asked to take several tests that measured their personality. Three scales were used to measure owner personality: The IPIP-BFM, which focuses on the at Big 5 traits including openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, the Computerized Adaptive Assessment of Personality Disorders, which measured owner dominance, "the Dirty Dozen," which measures dramatically-named "Dark Triad" traits, like narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
Next, owners were asked to complete the Cat Tracker Project Questionnaire, a 25-item test of their cat's personality, which measured the cats' agreeableness, extroversion, dominance, impulsiveness, and neuroticism. Finally, the owners were asked to rate how satisfying their relationship with their cat was on a scale of 1 to 10. Cats, tragically, were not given an opportunity to
judge objectively rate their owners.
So, what makes for a good cat/owner relationship? The biggest factor in owner satisfaction with the relationship hinged on how agreeable they perceived their cat to be (remember, the cats' personality data was collected solely through owner surveys, so it's not objective—it's possible that owners who are happy with their cat-lationship just also tend to think of their cats as more agreeable). According to the researchers' report, cat personality accounted for almost 20 percent of owner satisfaction, regardless of the personality of the human filling out that satisfaction report.
In general owners tended to report that their cats had similar personalities to their own. So, if a person rated highly in dominance traits in the personality tests they were given, for example, they were also more likely to describe their cat as being dominant. If a person was shown to be neurotic on their own test, they were more likely to rate their cat as being neurotic, and so on. You get the idea. This data is interesting, but it could mean a few different things.
Possibility 1: It could show that humans have some unconscious cat personality radar that enables them to choose a cat with a personality that is similar to their own.
Possibility 2: It could indicate that our cats grow to be more like us once we adopt them. So, if you're a big extrovert and you adopt a little kitten, maybe that kitten is more likely to grow into a confident, extroverted cat because it grew up watching and learning from you.
Possibility 3: It could show that humans are big fat narcissists who project our own personalities onto our cats. So, maybe the extroverted human just thinks of her cat as an extrovert, even though that's not objectively the case.
Whatever the cause of the results, more research is required to know for sure (so, you know, someone start a Go Fund Me for the University of Liverpool team, STAT).
Some of the more interesting findings, when you dig deeper into the results, include the correlation between different types of can and human personalities and how that impacts satisfaction. While a lot of people reported having similar personalities to their cats, there were also some mismatched personality traits that, when combined, led to higher satisfaction. So, for example, a mismatch in owner dominance and cat agreeableness was correlated to overall cat-isfaction (meaning that a less dominant owner was more happy with a very agreeable cat and a very dominant owner was more satisfied with a less agreeable cat).
This indicates that maybe, just maybe, there's some real nuance to having a great relationship with your cat, beyond just finding a cat that is overall nice and reminds you of yourself (which, in the simplest terms, sums up most of the rest of the study's findings).