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Feature July 2016 Issue

How Our Cats Are Like Us

As it turns out, we share certain basic personality traits and indoor and outdoor cats are the same.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve taken some form of personality quiz either in a magazine or online. You may have even done so on behalf of your pet. Well, researchers in Australia have found out something interesting: Our cats are not too different from us.

Some human psychologists believe in the theory that we all possess five main personality traits: agreeableness; openness to experience; conscientiousness; extroversion; and neuroticism. And according to a research team at The University of South Australia, cats display their own main five as well.

After administering personality cats to nearly 3,000 cats in Australia and New Zealand — the tests were completed by their owners — the animals were ranked on a scale of one to seven for a list of 52 behaviors and traits, including clumsiness, recklessness and vocality.

By splitting the responses into much narrower traits, a computer analysis revealed five broad personality dimensions in cats. And three of these traits correspond to those in humans, according to Dr. Philip Roetman, a research fellow at the University of South Australia. The “feline five” include:

Skittishness: The researchers likened this trait to neuroticism in people. Cats with high skittishness scores are more anxious and fearful; calm and trusting cats showed low scores.

Outgoingness: This is considered to be the equivalent of extroversion in humans. Highly outgoing cats are curious and active.

Friendliness: This is akin to agreeableness in people. Highly friendly cats tend to be affectionate, while those with low scores tend to be solitary and irritable.

Dominance: This one belongs just to felines. Cats that are bullying and aggressive to their peers received high scores; cats that are friendly and submissive to other felines scored low.

Spontaneity: Another one that’s cat-specific, high scores here indicate impulsive, erratic cats; low scores were assigned to predictable, constrained cats.

Previous research relating to feline personality tests utilized wild and shelter cats, so this study is the first to analyze personality test results from domestic cats. Most of the participants fell somewhere in the middle for each trait, according to Dr. Roetman.

Older cats tended to be slightly more dominant and less outgoing than younger ones, explained Dr. Roetman, but there were no significant variations between genders, or between cats from New Zealand versus Australia.

Additionally, no major personality differences could be found between indoor and outdoor cats. This is especially important because some Australian cat owners worry that keeping their cats inside will negatively affect their personalities, according to Dr. Roetman. But most cats rank as typical whether they’re behind closed doors or roaming the streets, which is “really good news for people who keep their cats indoors,” he said. “The research suggests that it’s actually okay for the cats.”

Cat owners who participated received charts showing where their cat fell on the spectrum for each trait, and were given suggestions about how to interpret them. For example, highly skittish cats would benefit from hiding spots at home, whereas cats with low spontaneity scores would probably enjoy a predictable routine at home.

And if you enjoy personality tests, visit cats.yourwildlife.org and take a test on behalf of your cat! — Catnip staff

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