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Don’t Judge a Cat By Its Color

  • October 29, 2012

By Ann Pietrangelo

People are a judgmental lot. It turns out that in addition to judging each other based on appearance and stereotypes, we judge our feline friends in much the same way. You can probably guess which color cats we think are spooky and which kitties we assume are aloof and fussy.

A University of California, Berkeley researcher (who did much of her research while an undergraduate at Cal State East Bay) conducted a study to learn more about the link between cat color and cat adoption rates. Mikel Delgado, now a doctoral student in psychology and the study’s lead author, surveyed 189 cat owners and found that:

  • orange cats were more likely to be described as friendly
  • white cats tended to be characterized as aloof, shy, lazy, calm
  • tortoiseshell cats were more likely to be labeled as intolerant, but more trainable
  • black cats were stereotyped according to superstition
  • white cats, black cats, and tri-colored cats were all regarded as less sociable than orange cats

Those perceptions may influence how people choose which cats to adopt in the first place. According to Ms. Delgado, prior research shows that black and brown cats are less likely to be adopted than other cats, a fact echoed by the ASPCA. Dark cats are also more likely to be euthanized. This time of year, talk of Halloween and witches and superstitition only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes about black cats. However, there is no reason to believe that a cat’s color has any relationship to personality.

“To date there is little evidence that these perceived differences between differently colored cats actually exist, but there are serious repercussions for cats if people believe that some cat colors are friendlier than others,” says Delgado. “We hope that this study will be a starting point for further research in what qualities affect adoption and retention of pet cats, and whether there is a genetic or physical basis (such as coat color) for personality differences in cats.”

Details of the study were published in Anthrozoos, the official journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology. Coauthors were Jacqueline Munera, New College of Florida, and Gretchen Reevy, California State University, East Bay.

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