How People Perceive Emotions And Intellect In Dogs Compared To Cats
Many people will readily agree that their companion animals are capable of both displaying emotions and showing intelligence, but is there a difference in how people view these capabilities in dogs compared to cats? This paper, published in Behavioural Processes, sought to answer this question by investigating differences in perspectives of dog and cat guardians regarding their companion animals’ emotions, intellect, and relationship with humans.
The authors administered an online questionnaire to 74 cat guardians and 92 dog guardians in Japan. Participants responded to open-ended questions about their relationships with their companion animals as well as questions requiring responses on a 5-point scale (ranging from 1 for “No” to 5 for “Yes”) about companion animal capabilities and differences between humans and companion animals.
Based on responses to open-ended questions, participants were categorized as describing their companion animals as “family” or “non-family.” Results showed that most participants described their companion animals as “family,” although there was a significant difference between dog guardians (at 88.04%) and cat guardians (at 72.97%). Additionally, about half of both groups indicated that they believe their companion animals view them as family.
For questions regarding the capability of companion animal to show emotions, results revealed that both cat and dog groups returned a median score of 5 (the highest possible level of agreement) for the emotions “happiness,” “anger,” “fear,” “surprise,” “disgust,” and “affection.” The authors also performed further analysis on items that returned median scores other than 5, which showed that dog guardians ranked higher for “sadness,” “friendship,” “sympathy,” “compassion,” and “pity.” Regarding intellect, both groups returned a median score of 5 for “intelligence” and “ability to read humans’ attentional status,” and further analysis showed that dog owners returned significantly higher scores for “ability to understand human’s attentional status.” Both groups also returned median scores of 4-5 in response to the questions “how much do you think that cats/dogs have personality?” and “how much do you think there is a definitive difference between humans and cats/dogs?”
Finally, the authors investigated whether describing companion animals as “family” or “non-family” corresponded to rankings for emotion and intellect. They found that there was no significant difference for dog guardian scores. For cat guardians, there was a significant difference only for “compassion” (a median of 4 for the “family” group and 3 for the “non-family” group).
In summary, the authors state that the study shows that “cat owners’ perception and evaluation of their cats are basically comparable to those of dog owners, though there are subtle differences.” They note that, overall, cat guardians perceived a greater distance between themselves and their companion animals and perceived their companion animals as less emotional and intellectual. They suggest that the differences may stem from the fact that dogs more so than cats have been historically bred to live and work with humans and, therefore, to understand and respond to human cues. They recommend further research that combines guardians’ subjective views with the actual behavior of animals, particularly in regards to cats.
For advocates, the results paint an overall positive picture of how dog and cat guardians view their companion animals: most see them as family members and many indicate the highest possible level of agreement with statements about companion animals being able to feel emotions and possessing intellectual capabilities. Regarding the differences in perceptions of cats and dogs, people who advocate for the protection and welfare of companion animals might consider making a greater effort to show how cats can feel and demonstrate emotions and, in particular, how they demonstrate emotions such as compassion, sympathy, and friendship when interacting with others.