Dog owners less neurotic than cat owners, says study


Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

Dog owners less neurotic than cat owners, says study

Do dogs make you less neurotic? Or do less neurotic people choose dogs?


Even though pet owners like to think of themselves as loving sorts, there’s a little edgy rivalry that goes on between them.

When people take their dogs out for a walk, there’s the inevitable comparison of “mine is prettier/fiercer/friskier/faster/slimmer than yours.”

Scientists therefore like to examine some of the psychology behind such posturing and even wonder why people choose certain pets in the first place.

Such research reaches interesting conclusions.

The latest in the research canon was presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention in San Diego this weekend.

Its conclusions might chill some minds and boil others.

It seems, you see, that pet owners are more satisfied with life than non-owners. However: “Dog owners were higher in well-being, more conscientious, less neurotic, and marginally more extraverted and agreeable than cat owners.”

I fear eyes will be scratched out over this one.

The research was performed by Katherine Jacobs Bao at Manhattanville College in New York. She offered an online questionnaire to 263 participants, equally divided by sex and aged between 19 and 68.

How can it be that dog owners differ from cat owners when it comes to personality traits? My own highly subjective impression is that dogs are generally more sociable creatures, while cats are loners who tend to suck up to you only when they want something.

Indeed, British anthrozoologist John Bradshaw believes that cats think you’re just a big, stupid cat. Meanwhile, research from Edinburgh University suggests that your cat might be thinking of killing you.

Still, could it be that less neurotic people prefer dogs in the first place? Or might it be that dogs make you less neurotic?

Bao told me: “It’s impossible to tell just from my study, but I imagine that it could go both ways. Personality likely influences our choices to adopt a pet and which pet we choose, but our personality is not fixed, so it could also be influenced by our relationships with others, including our pets.”

But neuroticism is a serious thing. Might dogs actively assuage it? Bao thinks it’s possible.

“I’m currently conducting a longitudinal study on pet adoption, and I hope to be able to disentangle these sorts of relationships, to see if personality actually changes after adopting a pet,” she said.

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This isn’t the first time that cats have been associated with certain troubling mental traits. A University of California, Berkeley study found that cat people were more anxious, while dog people generally more outgoing sorts.

Bao does suggest in her research report that dog owners were happier than cat owners “which can be partially explained by personality, emotion regulation style, and need satisfaction.”

Cat owners, the suggestion is, are simply a touch more difficult. Yes, just like cats.

Bao believes that there needs to be more research (doesn’t every researcher?) to see how pet ownership affects humans over time.

I wonder how it affects pets too.

Updated at noon PT with comments from the researcher and additional information.