Summary of the personality traits of cats, with which to describe them as individuals.
The idea that animals have personality is something that, although common sense seems to indicate that it is obvious, it turns out to be something that has been very little investigated.
Fortunately, in recent years there have been those who have wanted to know what are the personality dimensions of some animal species, especially those that offer benefits or companionship to human beings.
One of the most in-depth investigations in this regard has made it possible to establish, still provisionally, what are the personality traits of cats. Next, we are going to see a little about animal research and the feline personality model.
The personality traits of cats
Both in popular culture and in the academic world, personality or temperament is understood to be a series of behavior patterns that differ from individual to individual, which can be totally normal and adaptive or, otherwise, assume what has been called personality disorders.
This same concept has been extrapolated to the animal world, trying to investigate on multiple occasions what are the personality traits of various species, but always from a focus focused on how closely, both in space and in phylogenetics, the species is with respect to to the human being. That is why most of the research has focused on non-human primates, mainly chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, in addition to dogs, given their usefulness in multiple professions such as the police.
However, cats, although they are not one of the most recurring animals in the professional field, are the most popular among pets, something that is a double-edged sword for the species. On the one hand, every year millions of felines are adopted around the world and, when the households who have adopted them see that it is not possible to establish a good coexistence, there are also millions of cats who are re-adopted, abandoned or, at worst of the cases, euthanized.
That is why trying to elucidate what their behavior patterns are, what personality traits each of them have and how they can be beneficial or harmful for people has become a task of vital importance both for the well-being of cats. as of those who adopt them. Knowing what personality the animal has can make it easier to find a correct home for it, use it as a therapeutic animal ( cat therapy ), find out if it has veterinary problems and seek strategies to change its temperament.
How can you measure the personality of a cat?
As you can understand, finding out what is the behavior of a human being is much easier than discovering what is that of an animal, be it a cat, dog, monkey or horse. With adult human beings it is enough to administer a personality questionnaire, such as the NEO-PIR, that they answer it and analyze the answers later. In the case of an animal, it is necessary to observe its behavior patterns, record them and draw conclusions based on how it relates to others, how active it is, whether or not it seeks company …
In the first investigations on feline personality, the classical observation method was used, a very recurrent method in ethology and which is ideal for studying primate species. This tool is characterized by being very objective, since what is seen is recorded, the researcher’s interpretations will come after having obtained the complete record of the animal.
However, with the passage of time, it was found that it was better, especially for domestic cats, to ask their owners directly, using standardized questionnaires, what personality traits they attributed to their pets. Although this route is more subjective, it is much more practical, less time consuming and, given that the owner has spent a lot of time living with the animal, his opinion is relatively reliable.
The feline five factor model
To date, the largest research that has addressed the personality of cats is that of the Lichfield group from 2017, in which about 2,000 cats resident in South Australia and New Zealand were sampled. In the research, feline owners were administered a questionnaire in which they had to indicate what traits they attributed to their pets.
This study is highly innovative, since it was not limited to seeing where on a continuum or dimension, subjectively chosen, the personality of a specific cat could be located, but rather it sought to establish a personality model similar to that of the Five Factors or McCrae and Costa’s Big Five, just feline. In the classic model are the following dimensions which make it up.
- Openness to experience
The theoretical framework of the model suggests that the personality of the individual is determined by the position in which he is in each of these dimensions, which each constitute a continuum with two opposite poles.
The research carried out by Lichfield et al. (2017) concluded that there are also 5 personality dimensions that can be found in domestic cats, these being neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsivity and cordiality.
This dimension could be understood as that of the classic neuroticism of the McCrae and Costa model.
Cats that score high on this dimension are often insecure, anxious, fearful of people, and usually shy. This is why a home with a highly neurotic cat should ensure that it has places where it can easily hide and feel safe, especially if there are visitors.
On the other hand, cats that are less neurotic and, therefore, should be monitored more frequently, since they will be animals that will not be afraid of getting too close to what stimuli, and may run the risk of having an accident.
The dimension of feline extraversion is a combination between its human counterpart and the dimension of openness to experience.
Within this dimension you can find traits such as being active, curious, being vigilant, inquisitive, determined and inventive.
Extraverted cats are smarter, more curious, and self-starter. That is why it is convenient for them to grow up in environments where there are many stimuli and with cognitive complexity. Otherwise it will be easier for them to get bored and look for their own distractions, such as scratching doors, destroying furniture.
Little extraverted cats are also less clever and seek less novelty. Because of this, they tend to be more sedentary and not attracted to cognitive stimuli, which can exacerbate health problems related to aging.
This, in turn, will involve physical problems and cognitive dysfunction, which will increase visits to the vet.
Dominance is one of the dimensions with which it differs from the classic big five model.
In this case, aspects such as harassing other animals, showing aggressive behavior, marking the territory, preventing someone from approaching their safety zone or self-proclaimed as theirs are included within this dimension.
High scores in this dimension could reflect that the cat tends to harm other cats in the home, which would be a source of stress, conflict, aggression and damage, as well as lower health in general.
Although it is not exactly the dimension of the responsibility of the classical model, it could be considered as something similar, only in the opposite pole.
Within the impulsivity dimension, we would have traits such as carrying out erratic behaviors, taking risks without much thought, not knowing how to wait …
High scores in impusiveness can indicate living in a stressful environment, with negative effects on the health and well-being of the cat.
In these cases, owners may need to seek advice from a feline trainer or a cat expert to find out what is the source of stress.
Low impulsivity scores usually indicate that the cat is correctly adapted to the home in which it has lived, and in which it feels satisfied and enjoys its routine.
Friendliness is another dimension that has the same name as in the McCrae and Costa model. It includes traits such as being affectionate, friendly with people and other animals.
High scores in friendliness tend to represent that cats are happy in the home, that they are well adjusted, and in turn these happy cats can be a source of behavioral enrichment for other cats.
These types of cats can be very useful for therapeutic purposes, such as feline therapy for both humans and other animals,
Low scores in this dimension can translate into cats being irritable and aggressive towards people, they can reflect poor socialization, find themselves frustrated or be suffering from some kind of illness or pain.
- Costa PT, McCrae RR (1992). Four ways five factors are basic. Individual Pers Dif. 13: 653–665.
- Source: Litchfield CA, Quinton G, Tindle H, Chiera B, Kikillus KH, Roetman P (2017) The ‘Feline Five’: An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus). PLoS ONE 12 (8): e0183455.