I recently read an article written by Dr. Arnold Plotnick on his “Cat Man Do” blog. Over the years there have been many studies trying to link cat personalities with the color of their coats. He touches on a couple of them, and most were basically inconclusive, showing no significant differences or mixed results.
Now this does not surprise me, as it seems like a rather superficial trait to base a cat’s personality on. Dr. Plotnick remains skeptical, as well. It would make sense that certain breeds could have differing personalities, but we are not talking about purebred differences, we are specifically talking about coat color.
The part of his article that I found the most interesting was a study on the perceptions of people on this topic. In this study:
“A questionnaire was distributed to participants in a study. Using a 7-point scale (where 1 = strongly agree, 2 = agree, 3 = agree a little, 4 = neutral, 5 = disagree a little, 6 = disagree, and 7 = strongly disagree), participants assessed ten characteristics (active, aloof, bold, calm, friendly, intolerant, shy, stubborn, tolerant, and trainable) and the extent to which these characteristics could be applied to five colors of cats (Orange, tortie, white, black, and bi-colored).”
Dr. Plotnick points out that bi-colored seems like an odd category, because a cat could be black and white, or orange and white. They claimed that they wanted to see if the existence of white patches affected overall perceptions of the cat’s personality.
I would take Dr. Plotnick’s observation further, because many of what people consider “orange” cat’s are tabbys, which have white in them, just not in patches. In fact all Tabbys are at least bi-colored. In fact, many Tortiose shells are primarily black and orange, making them bi-color, yet they get their own group.
This seems to make that category rather useless, as it leaves more room for people to speculate on the meaning. It also leaves out multi-colored cats, like calicos and many tabbys. Also, grey cats aren’t even a factor….but I digress. Maybe it served their purpose enough to get the data they were looking for.
The results of the survey were a bit “interesting”:
“All other listed colors of cats were deemed more “active” than white cats.
Torties, black cats, and white cats were more “aloof” than orange cats.
All other listed colors of cats were termed more “bold” than white cats.
White cats were considered more “calm” than torties and bi-colored cats.
Orange, black and bi-colored were considered more “friendly” than torties; orange and bi-colored cats were seen as being friendlier than white cats.
Torties were rates as being more “intolerant” than orange, black and bi-colored cats.
White cats were ranked as being more “shy” than orange and bi-colored cats, and black cats were ranked as being more “shy” than orange cats.
Orange cats and black cats were said to be more “tolerant” than torties.
Orange cats were said to be more “trainable” than white cats.
To further describe the researchers’ findings, they concluded that a color group was different in terms of personality if they were statistically different from at least two other colors of cat. Using this scheme, they determined that …
Orange cats were perceived as being high in friendliness and low in aloofness and shyness
Torties were high in aloofness and intolerance, and low in friendliness and tolerance.
White cats were thought to be aloof, calm and shy, and not very active, bold or friendly.
Bi-colored cats (black and white, orange and white) were said to be friendly, and not aloof.
Interestingly, black cats were not rated differently from more than one color category on any of the traits.”
What can we take away from this? Nothing, other than that many people tend to associate the color of a cat’s coat to its personality. I want to stress, these are the results of people’s perceptions, and it does not represent any true relationship between coat color and personality.
I think a lot of these perceptions have to do with how they are often presented in media. Orange and white cats tend to get the spotlight in TV commercials, while black cats often get associated with bad luck.
Black cats seem to have been labeled as being aloof, but most of the black cats I have known have been outgoingly friendly.
Tortoise shell cats really got a bad rap in this survey. If one were to actually buy into these beliefs, torties are the most aloof, least friendly, and most intolerant cats out there. However, I, and many other tortie owners out there, would have to disagree with this idea.
My tortie, Munchkin, is a sweetheart (her Petfinder adoption pic is on the left). She is friendly, and not the least bit aloof. She loves to cuddle, with me, and with other cats. Even at the vet, she is extremely well behaved. Her only personality flaw is an obsession with food. Of my 4 cats, she is the second friendliest, next to my black cat who seeks out attention constantly.
Here is the really sad part in all of this is that, personality aside, a cat’s coat color affects their adoption. According to Dr. Plotnick, dark colored cats tend to remain in adoption centers longer, and are more likely to be euthanized than cats with lighter coats, or coats with patterns. Munchkin is a mixture of dark orange and black, making her, overall, a dark color, and coloring has no pattern to it.
Her litter mates were orange tabbys that got adopted right away, but I was told by the shelter worker, than no one even looked at her. I can’t imagine not having her, and it saddens me to think of how many great cats get left behind because of the color of their coat.
The University of California, Berkeley also covered this study and was surprised at the results, and the negative impact that it has on adoptions. According to Cathy Marden, the cat coordinator at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society:
“…reactions to black cats can be so strong that few adoptions take place at the shelter when there are more than a few black cats in the adoption room. “It’s a huge bummer”
This seems bizarre, and more than a little disheartening that, in this day and age, people would react that strongly to the color of a cat’s fur, and that so many will remain unadopted (or worse) . Cathy is familiar with the psychology involved in pet adoptions and she, her staff, and volunteers do their best to try and break down these stereotypes at every opportunity. She points out:
“You can’t judge a cat by its color. If someone comes in to adopt, we encourage them to spend time with all the cats, because it’s the personality of that cat – not the color – that will let you know if the animal’s the right fit for you.”