In the past week or so, you may have seen certain headlines in certain online news outlets that proclaim something like this:
Your cat would kill you if only it were bigger
|Does this cat have the same basic personality...|
|as this one?|
Reality: What the Study Did
The paper describes a comparative study of the personality traits of five different cat species: the Scottish wild cat, the domestic cat, the clouded leopard, the snow leopard, and the African lion. The authors say that it is important to understand the personalities of wild cats being kept in captivity so zoos can help ensure their health and vitality. They were also looking at the evolution of felid personality traits. In particular, they expected to find similarities between Scottish wild cats and domestic cats, because those species are close relatives.
The study included 100 domestic cats from two shelters. These cats (and the other cats in the study; the other species were all kept in zoos) were rated on a 45-item personality survey. You know this sort of thing: You go through a list of items and fill in little bubbles to indicate “not at all like me,” “somewhat like me,” or “a lot like me.” Or some variation of that. Obviously, the cats didn’t fill out the surveys themselves; human observers did that.
The results of those surveys were then treated to some statistical work that revealed the most prominent traits for each species. These traits were then grouped under larger labels called factors. For example, in domestic cats, the traits excitable, active, playful, distractible, and reckless were grouped under the factor Impulsiveness. The factor labels and the exact traits grouped under them varied a little bit. Clouded leopards got the factors Dominance/Impulsiveness, Agreeable/Openness, and Neuroticism, for example.
Domestic cats, according to the study, show Dominance (aggressive to peers, bullying), Impulsiveness (excitable, active, playful, distractible, reckless), and Neuroticism (anxious, insecure, tense, suspicious, fearful of people). The older cats were found to be less impulsive, suggesting that cats settle down a bit as they age.
I do wonder if the results would be the same for cats who have permanent homes. Is it really surprising that a cat in a shelter might be tense, anxious, and insecure? The same goes for wild species being kept in zoos. That might be worth a future study.
A Cat Is a Cat Is a Cat
The researchers were surprised to find that feline personalities were similar across all the species studied—except the African lions (they just had to be different). This suggests that the core of feline personality evolved early and has not changed much over millions of years. So your little tabby’s personality is really not that different from, say, a clouded leopard’s—or from that of an ancestor that lived millions of years ago.
The study, available as a pdf:
Gartner, M. C., Powell, D. M., & Weiss, A. (2014). “Personality Structure in the Domestic Cat (Felis silvestris catus), Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), and African Lion (Panthera leo): A Comparative Study.” Journal of Comparative Psychology, 128 (4), 414–426. 10.1037/a0037104
Calico cat by Howcheng. (GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5), via Wikimedia Commons.