The reasoning is as follows: if you think (1) & (2) apply better to yourself, you’re probably a “cat person” (i.e., a person who loves cats). But if you picture yourself better in description (3) & (4), you’re more likely to be a “dog person”. At least, according to popular culture. The Internet is flooded with endless debates, derogatory cartoons and very serious, pet-enthusiastic websites, all fiercely arguing the Fundamental Question: Who are better, dogs (persons) or cats (persons)? This is of the utmost importance since it is widely believed that being a dog or a cat person reveals much about your inner self. That’s why it is not uncommon to use this categorization as a way of assessing whether you would get along with a new roommate, business colleague or romantic partner. This popular culture topic has garnered some attention in the scientific realm as well. Let's consider some of the findings.
The long-standing rivalry between dogs (lovers) and cats (lovers)
The "Crazy Cat Lady" & Other Stereotypes
have] general beliefs about what sorts of people go with what sorts of pet”
“[We have] general beliefs about what sorts of people go with what sorts of pet”
You’re like me, thus I like you
|Fig. 1. Poodles are perceived as spoiled|
Look at the above picture of a Poodle for instance. What is the first image of the likely owner that popped in your mind? Is it more along the lines of a wealthy young (spoiled) individual or that of a loan-indebted Anthropology student? This is pretty much the task used by May et al. (2004; study 1) in their study. Their participants saw dogs’ pictures (of different breeds) next to pictures of individuals who were (falsely) claimed to be the dogs’ owners. In a later task, participants were asked to rate the “owner” on several traits.
All of the above doesn't really explain why actual (but small) "personality" differences are found between self-identified dog and cat persons. My humble opinion on this issue is the following: the same pet-related beliefs that lead us to perceive differently owners of various pet species could also explain why people choose to label themselves as dog or cat (or snake) persons in the first place. Indeed, those pet-related beliefs - as many other types of stereotypes - are likely to be culturally shaped and shared to some extent by an entire group or society, including pet owners. Thus, those who label themselves as dog persons or cat persons may do so primarily on the basis of:
- their own perceived traits (e.g., "I'm a socially inclined and outgoing individual"),
- pet species-related beliefs (e.g., "Cats are socially challenged whereas dogs are more extraverted"), and
- folk theories regarding pet-owner compatibility (e.g., "Some pets are better suited to some kind of personalities").
Consequently, this allow to infer what kind of pet one would get along better with (e.g., "I am probably a dog person"). Once the label of this perceived distinct category ("dog persons") is applied to oneself, it's easier to identify with (or even develop) the characteristics other members of the same category are believed to display. This will in turn perpetuate the stereotype, since every time outsiders will encounter dog or cat persons who fit the stereotypical profile, it may strengthen their belief in the existence of innate personality differences between dog and cat people.
In sum, it seems that even inconspicuous topics such as pet-related perceptions and pet-owner relationships can be far more complex than readily expected. Earlier studies mostly searched for personality differences between owners of different pets species or breeds, thus sometimes overlooking the crucial role of beliefs and stereotypes in these matters. However, this blog post took a different outlook and focused primarily on social psychological mechanisms underlying pets and owners-related perceptions, although further research (cross-cultural in particular) is still somewhat needed in this field.
In any case, if you’re curious about whether you are a dog or cat person, check out one of the numerous (and funny) personality tests that pet enthusiastic people have charitably crafted: Click here: the way to the truth about your inner self. Also, I do apologize to all self-identified turtle lovers, as it seems the only turtle personality tests available so far are specifically related to the Mutant Ninjas Turtles - which admittedly may not be all that helpful.