New research says there are real personality differences among dog and cat people. What do you think?

Have you always proclaimed with pride, “I’m a total dog person!”

or have you been more the type to look forward to curling up with your kitty (or litter of kittens??) on the couch?

There has long been a belief that people fall into one of two camps – dog people or cat people – with a whole host of accompanying personality traits, tics, and idiosyncrasies that are believed to go hand in hand with the categorization. Most people never really give such stereotypes any real credibility, though the “crazy cat lady” archetype of an older single woman with a penchant for “collecting” cats in large numbers has become the stuff of jokes, as has the rugged, athletic handsome young man that trains for a marathon, jogging with his faithful golden retriever alongside him.

Do you ever wonder what your preference for cats or dogs says about you? What if you, like me, consider yourself a general “animal person” and love both cats and dogs equally?

A University of Texas at Austin psychologist, Sam Gosling, wanted to find out. As part of a larger internet study about personality, Gosling included a 44-item assessment that asked more than 4500 people to rate themselves on the so-called “Big Five” personality dimensions that psychologists use to study personalities: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  The questionnaire also asked people to indicate whether they considered themselves cat people, dog people, both, or neither.

It turns out that the self-identified “dog people”  tend to be more “social” and “outgoing,” whereas self-identified “cat people” tend to be more “neurotic but open,” which means creative, philosophical, or nontraditional in this context. Important to note is that in this study, the way a person identifies him/herself is the most crucial correlation factor to different personality traits, rather than which type(s) of animal(s) a person actually owns. This means that someone who owns multiple cats and no dogs could identify themselves as a “dog person” and therefore be correlated with the typical “dog person” traits, even though s/he owns no dogs, which brings into question the inherent biases people have about what it means to be a “dog person” vs. a “cat person” and how they identify themselves as a result.

The survey found that “dog people” scored significantly higher on extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness measures and lower on neuroticism and openness than “cat people,” regardless of the respondent’s gender.

Interestingly, 46% of respondents described themselves as being dog people, while only 12% said they were cat people. Almost 28% said they were both cat and dog people, and 15% said they were neither. However, based on 2007 data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 37% of American households have dogs and 32% have cats, but the cat population (82 million) is significantly higher than the dog population (72 million), but that is likely due to the fact that many people who own cats have multiple cats, moreso than people who own dogs. Yet, why do so many less people identify themselves as being “cat people?” What are the “typical” personality characteristics of the 28% who self-identify as being both dog and cat people?

This got me to thinking: are these results a true representation of people who share their lives with dogs, cats, or dogs and cats? In other words, are “dog people” really more “extroverted, agreeable and conscientious” than “cat people,” or is it simply that our cultural/societal belief systems about liking and owning dogs generally equates to a correlation with more conscientiousness, agreeableness and extroversion? Are these beliefs are so subconsciously ingrained within people, that 46% of respondents choose to self-identify with these traits (via the third-party identification of “dog person?”)?

“There is a widely held cultural belief that the pet species–dog or cat–with which a person has the strongest affinity says something about the individual’s personality,” says Gosling. However, many studies that have tried to answer this question in the past have failed to find convincing evidence for consistent differences between the two kinds of pet lovers. Gosling’s paper is the first to provide a clear picture of the “general” personality characteristics of dog and cat people.

“This research suggests there are significant differences on major personality traits between dog people and cat people,” he says. “Given the tight psychological connections between people and their pets, it is likely that the differences between dogs and cats may be suited to different human personalities.”

However, are these results so generalizable? Isn’t it likely that people choose pets that are like them, and/or choose pets based on other circumstances (size of living quarters, allergies, career/travel schedules, spouse/partner preference) or perhaps even, that pets change people over time?

What do you think about this study? Are the personality traits and resulting “correlations” obvious or is this simply an example of upholding established cultural stereotypes? Do you identify yourself as a “dog person,” “cat person,” “both,” or “neither?” Do you think your pet(s) influence(s) your personality, or how has your personality influenced your pet choice?

The results from Gosling et al.’s study will be published in the journal Anthrozoos in September 2010.