Judging a Cat by Its Cover

What a cat’s color says about its personality.


A number of years ago, psychology researchers asked almost 200 people to assign personality traits to their cats. Among the choices: aloof, bold, calm, friendly, shy, stubborn, and tolerant.

The investigators’ finding, laid out in the journal Anthrozoos: people tended to rate orange cats and cats of two colors as friendly. But cats of three colors — calicos or tortoiseshells — were considered antisocial. Tortoiseshells were also considered intolerant and trainable — two traits that pretty much seem mutually exclusive.

White cats and black cats, too, were called antisocial, and white felines were also described as not so bold and active but rather sly, lazy, calm, and aloof. Black cats were said not to exhibit traits in the extreme.

Is there anything to it? Well, a few years later, other researchers published a similarly themed study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Querying almost 1,300 cat guardians, they found that respondents felt orange cats were particularly aggressive toward people during everyday interactions as well as on veterinary visits.

With one study suggesting that orange cats are friendly and another that they are aggressive, we surmise that, at best, the jury is out on whether color is correlated with a cat’s temperament and, more likely, that color and personality traits are not genetically linked — or certainly not linked in a sturdy enough way to definitively tie a cat’s color to its personality style.

Says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, “associating hair color with personality doesn’t happen only with cats. Historically, redheads have been considered hotheads, and blondes are purported to have more fun.

“It is scientifically plausible that color traits could be linked to behavioral traits,” she adds. Studies comparing specific behavioral traits and coat color among cats may well turn out to reveal links between the way cats look and the way they act. But general perceptions connecting appearance to personality are more apt to reflect people’s preconceived notions about color and personality. That is, people’s preconceptions about feline appearance and behavior are revealing, but not necessarily about cats.

Even if coat color does turn out to be associated with a higher prevalence of certain behaviors, “many other things influence personality in a decidedly influential way,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. For instance, a cat’s early environment, accumulated experiences, state of health, and other generic contributions from her parents have a lot to do with whether she takes a shine to humans.

How our perceptions matter

While you can’t necessarily tell anything about a cat’s personality by its color, it’s worth noting that one study found black and brown cats the least likely to be adopted. Maybe it’s because black cats have been associated with bad luck. That’s silly. Black cats have a particularly sleek and velvety look — bringing such a beautiful feline into your home is most definitely good luck.


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