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Feature January 2016 Issue

Just Tiny Tigers?

Our lovable domestic cats have more in common with big cats than previously thought.

Researchers in the UK have recently determined that domestic cats are more neurotic and controlling than we may realize — and we’re probably overdoing it with all of our loving attention.

Researchers concluded that our beloved lap cats have several things in common with the African lion, including dominance, neuroticism and impulsivity.

Published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, the study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the Bronx Zoo compared the personalities of domestic cats with other big cats living in captivity, including snow leopards and African lions. Research determined that domestic cats have very similar personalities to lions — with their strongest traits being dominance, neuroticism and impulsivity.

It’s important to note that the study involved domestic cats in shelters, so the mindset of our own cats may be slightly different. However, the study does indicate that we probably don’t understand our cats as well as we think we do. “People often don’t know how to treat them and then are surprised by their behavior,” explains lead researcher Marieke Gartner, from the University of Edinburgh.

After studying 100 domestic cats at two shelters, the researchers mapped their behavior with the “Big Five” human personality aspects: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion/Introversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. In various zoos, they monitored the behavior of clouded leopards, snow leopards, African lions, and Scottish wildcats.

The results showed that, regardless of size, all of these cat types had similar personalities. “Across the five felid species we assessed, personality structure was strikingly similar,” the researchers concluded.

However, we also need to remember that cats, like humans, are individuals. “Cats have different personalities, and they ended up living with us because it was a mutually beneficial situation,” explains Gartner. “Some cats are more independent, while some are quite loving. It just depends on the individual. It’s not that cats are simply self-centered. It’s that they are a more solitary or semi-solitary species.” — Catnip staff

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