A team of researchers led by psychologist Sam Gosling at the University of Texas at Austin wanted to find out. They posted a questionnaire online as part of a larger study about personality called the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project.
About 4,500 participants answered questions that measured their personality inclinations in five areas: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These five dimensions have been shown in previous research to encompass most personality traits. They also indicated whether they considered themselves cat people, dog people, both or neither.
It turns out that the “dog people” — based on how people identified themselves, not on what animals they actually own — tend to be more social and outgoing, whereas “cat people” tend to be more neurotic but “open,” which means creative, philosophical, or nontraditional in this context.
Dog people scored significantly higher on extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness measures, and lower on neuroticism and openness than cat people, the survey found. The effect persisted regardless of gender of the respondent.
Cat rescue volunteer Eddye Sheffield, of Gadsden, Alabama, said she’s seen all kinds of cat owners, and can’t pin down personality traits that apply to all cat people. Outsiders might label Sheffield herself a “crazy cat lady” because she has 11 cats, she said, but she doesn’t view herself that way.
“All of them are rescued cats and they need a place to go, and I had room, that’s how I ended up with that many,” she said. Owning that many has also gotten her more involved in rescue efforts, which has put her into more contact with other people, not less (score one for extraversion).
“To love cats, you have to be able to love things for themselves; they have their own life, they aren’t necessarily dependent on you,” he said. “Your dog kind of lives for you.”
About 37 percent of American households have dogs and 32 percent have cats, but the cat population (82 million) is significantly higher than the dog population (72 million), That’s because people tend to own multiple cats, as they are more amenable to many people’s lifestyles.