How Human Personality Can Affect Cats’ Behavior and Well-Being
When kept as companion animals, cats rely on humans to care for them, and that relationship generally involves some level of social interaction. Cats’ behavior and well-being can be affected by numerous factors, including their guardians’ personalities.
In this paper, the authors present the findings of a survey of cat guardians in the U.K., in which respondents completed a personality test that assessed their agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness, as well as reporting on their cat’s behavior and well-being. The researchers begin by establishing similarities between the cat-guardian relationship and the parent-child relationship, highlighting the associated impact on the well-being of cats and children, respectively. The findings demonstrate that guardian personality may have a significant effect on their interactions with their cats, the amount of freedom they give their animals, the cats’ behavior and health, and the potential well-being of companion animals more generally.
The researchers found that cats may benefit when their guardians have lower levels of neuroticism and higher levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness. For instance, guardians with higher agreeableness scores were more likely to be satisfied with their cats and report that they’re of normal weight. Cats who had more conscientious guardians displayed less anxious, aggressive, and aloof behavioral styles, and were more gregarious.
The study found that the opposite was also true: For example, guardians who were more neurotic were more likely to report that their cats had a medical condition, were overweight or very overweight, or displayed frequent stress-linked sickness behaviors, “behavioral problems,” or aggressive or anxious behavioral styles.
Guardian personality also appeared to affect cats’ access to the outdoors. For example, guardians with higher levels of neuroticism were more likely to keep their cats indoors—perhaps they are worried about the risks cats face outdoors. (This may mean that the personalities of cat guardians affect local wildlife, too, as domestic cats are prolific predators.) However, the authors recognize that cultural factors are also at play—in the U.K., giving cats outdoor access is common and generally seen as beneficial to their well-being.
As cats cannot self-report, the assessment of their welfare and behavior was based solely on their guardians’ reports and may, therefore, be subject to bias; the authors recommend follow-up studies with direct behavioral observations and collection of biological data. More research could also help confirm whether guardian personality directly influences cats’ behavioral responses or whether other factors interfere—for example, neurotic owners may have a more pessimistic view of their cats’ behavior.