Study: If your cat brings home lots of dead birds, you may be a serial killer

Granted, that’s a pretty loose interpretation of the findings, but a new study by researchers at the University of Liverpool suggests that while dogs may look like their owners, cats act like them.

Researchers measured five personality traits in cats known as the “Feline Five”: friendliness, impulsiveness, dominance, neuroticism, and extroversion.

In the study, 126 participants—11 men, 115 women—completed surveys that assessed their cats on each of the Feline Five by ranking the accuracy of statements such as “My cat challenges the usual dominance order with other cats [and/or] people in the household,” and “My cat moves frequently e.g., often walks, runs, stalks.”

The owners also completed a similar survey about their own personalities, although their questions tested for the three Dark Triad traits—an ominous-sounding name for three unpleasant traits found in humans (especially serial killers!): narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. The owners ranked statements such as “I sympathize with others’' feelings,” “I tend to lack remorse,” and “I tend to want others to admire me.”

The researchers found a correlation between the owners’ personalities and those of their cats: Owners who ranked highly on the dominance scale were more likely to have dominant cats, whereas impulsive owners often had impulsive cats.

Meanwhile, owners who scored highly on Dark Triad traits were more likely to own dominant, neurotic, and impulsive cats. (Dead birds on the front porch, anyone?)

The researchers concluded that owners are drawn to cats who reflect their personalities: “Dominant cats are greedy, defiant, and aggressive, and bullying toward people [and/or] other cats, which could be attractive to potential owners who have similar tendencies in their own social interactions,” the researchers wrote. “Impulsive cats are excitable and erratic, which could be pleasing to impulsive owners.”

Cat personality alone was found to be a good predictor of owner satisfaction: Owners with highly playful and amiable cats were generally happier, and owners with neurotic cats were less happy.

A previous study examined the Feline Five in relation to how they might be applied to improving the management and welfare of pet cats: The study suggested that highly impulsive cats may be reacting to something stressful in the environment, while unfriendly, irritable cats may be reacting to underlying pain or stress.

NEWStat asked Sonia Tucci, PGDip, MD, MSc, PhD, a senior lecturer in biological psychology at the University of Liverpool and a coauthor of the new study, how the findings might impact veterinarians with feline patients.

Tucci suggested that, just as pets and owners with similar personalities are more compatible, the compatibility of a veterinarian and a feline patient based on personality could “have an effect on the treatment the cat receives. Not only actual medical treatment, but also in the way the veterinarian will [physically] handle the cat.” Meaning that compatible personalities could influence the doctor-patient relationship in veterinary medicine the same way it does in human medicine.

That works even better when the owner is part of the personality package.

“I’d imagine that the best relationship would be established between veterinarians and owners and cats [who share] similar traits,” Tucci said.

Unless, of course, you share the Dark Triad traits, in which case you’re an episode of Criminal Minds waiting to happen.

Photo credit: © iStock/Tianikia