Study describes pet cat personality

The Feline Five: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness, and agreeableness
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Researchers in South Australia and New Zealand have identified five distinct personality types in domestic cats by applying a model commonly used to describe personality traits in people. A better understanding of cat personality through assessment can enhance animal health and welfare by tailoring management strategies to suit the temperament of individual cats, according to the researchers.

"'The 'Feline Five': An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus)" was published by the online journal PLOS One on Aug. 23. The study details the findings of researchers from the University of South Australia and University of Wellington in New Zealand who sought to determine the number of reliable, interpretable factors depicting personality in pet cats.

Relatively little is known about typical domestic cat behavior, the researchers observe, as most behavioral studies are conducted in laboratories, at shelters, or on free-ranging feral cat colonies. "This gap in knowledge is problematic since the typical environment for domestic cats is arguably the home, with tens of millions of pet cats, some kept exclusively indoors," they wrote.

"Cat owners, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and scientists often focus on the behavioral problems of stressed cats rather than on the behavior of psychologically healthy cats and their inter- and intra-species interactions," the researchers continued. "Development of an accurate standardized ethogram (inventory of species-specific behaviors) for pet cats would facilitate creation of standards for optimal housing and welfare, like the Five Freedoms for captive animals."

Their study relied on a model used in human personality research known as the Five-Factor Model, or the Big Five, which uses common language, rather than neuropsychological data, to describe personality. The thinking behind the FFM is human personality can be described by five broad factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each factor comprises several correlated and specific factors. Extraversion, for example, is said to include the related qualities of gregariousness, warmth, and assertiveness.

The personalities of 2,802 pet cats from South Australia and New Zealand were rated by their owners, using a survey measuring 52 personality traits. It is the first study of its kind to use so large a transnational sample, according to the researchers, and builds on investigations of other researchers to fill in a number of methodological gaps.

Analysis of cat owner responses suggests there are five reliable factors that depict domestic cat personality: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness, and agreeableness. Researchers dubbed these personality factors the Feline Five.

Neuroticism, the study explains, reflects the traits of insecurity, anxiousness, fearfulness of people, suspiciousness, and shyness. Dominance includes bullying as well as the characteristics of dominance and aggressiveness toward other cats. Impulsiveness traits include erraticism and recklessness. Agreeableness traits include affectionateness, friendliness to people, and gentleness. Extraversion traits include being active, vigilant, curious, inquisitive, inventive, and smart.

The personality of an individual cat is determined by where the animal exists along each factor's continuum, between low and high scores.

The research team believes the Feline Five has the potential to improve the welfare of pet cats through personalized management strategies. "Highly Impulsive cats for example, may be reacting to something stressful in their environment, whereas cats with low Agreeableness scores, showing irritability may indicate underlying pain or illness. Thus, the need for a systematic and holistic approach to personality that includes both the individual pet cat and its environment is recommended, and opens the door to future interdisciplinary intervention," they wrote.