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A New Study Shows People Judge Cats By Coat Color

Making assumptions about cats based on color is common, but wrong. And it really hurts shelter cats.

 |  Nov 5th 2012  |   41 Contributions


Lovey-dovey gingers. Dark cats with dark hearts. Snooty white kitties. We certainly have enough anecdotal experience showing that people make snap judgements about cats based on their coat color, but until now, there hasn’t been any scientific research on the subject.

Is this guy the friendliest cat in the room? Orange tabby cat byShutterstock

This year, researchers from UC Berkeley, California State University, and the New College of Florida conducted an Internet-based survey of 189 people who had lived with cats, asking them to associate various personality terms with five cat colors -- orange, tri-colored (calico and tortoiseshell), white, black, and bicolored (white and any other color).

Some of the results: Orange cats were perceived as friendlier than other cats. White cats were considered aloof, lazy, and calm. Calicos and torties are often judged to be more aloof and intolerant than other cats.

This white cat doesn't look too snobby and aloof to me. Little girl feeding a cat by Shutterstock

Strangely enough, for all the blather about black cats being unlucky (at least, that’s what superstitious people here in the U.S. believe), the researchers couldn’t find any clear trends related to personality characteristics attributed to black cats.

The research also shows that these assumptions about cat color have a harmful effect on the adoption rates. While a lot of us know about the research showing that black cats are the least likely to be adopted and most likely to be euthanized, how many of us had any idea that torties can face similar problems? Tortoiseshell cats are often not adopted or quickly returned to shelters, apparently because of the stigma associated with their alleged “tortitude.”

"Tortitude?" I don't buy it. Every calico and tortie I've ever met has been an absolute sweetheart. Tortoiseshell cat by Shutterstock

The truth is, there’s very little connection between a cat’s coat color and its personality. However, “there are serious repercussions for cats if people believe that some cat colors are friendlier than others,” said Mikel Delgado, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley.

The team hopes the study will inspire more research into what qualities make it easier or more difficult for cats to be adopted, and whether there is a genetic or physical basis for personality differences that just hasn’t been found yet.

The study was published last week in the online version of Anthrozoos, the official journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology.

Source: UC Berkeley News Center

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