A new study by Australian researchers Beatrice Alba from Macquarie University and Nick Haslam from the University of Melbourne gives further understanding into whether we pick our pets based on complementary traits or opposing characteristics.
The results of the study titled "Dog people and cat people differ on dominance-related traits" were published in the journal Anthrozoos.
"Conjecturing that people prefer pets that complement their own personalities, we predicted that dog people should score higher than cat people on traits relating to dominance (i.e., social dominance orientation [SDO], interpersonal dominance, competitiveness, and narcissism)," wrote the authors.
The researchers hypothesized that dogs, being a submissive animal, would be the preferred pet of those with dominant personalities, whereas cats, who are typically independent and not easily controlled, would be the preferred companion for someone who is less dominant.
The first study focused on 506 participants and the second round focused on 528 subjects. The survey was administered online and the majority of participants were from the United States. U.S. funds were offered as compensation for the half-hour it took to complete the survey.
The study participants were graded based on their responses to questions that indicated their levels of social dominance orientation (the belief in social hierarchy), interpersonal dominance (the belief that they are meant to lead while others are meant to follow), competitiveness and narcissism.
"Hence the old saying that 'Dogs have owners, cats have staff,' and Winston Churchill's comment that 'Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us.' One reason why some people prefer dogs may be that they enjoy having pets that are submissive to them," wrote the authors. "Thus dog people should score higher on personality characteristics associated with dominance. The present study examined several dominance-related characteristics - Social Dominance Orientation, interpersonal dominance, competitiveness, and narcissism - to test this prediction."
The researchers were right... in some ways. Dog people scored higher in social dominance and competitiveness, but there were no real differences in interpersonal dominance or narcissism between cat people and dog people.
"Our interpretation of our findings proposes that dog people enjoy the submissiveness of dogs because it complements their personality, but this proposal was not directly tested," wrote study authors. "In addition, we do not claim that desire for submissiveness or acceptance of hierarchy is the only basis for dog preference, or that all dog-lovers possess these traits. Future research could ask people directly whether they enjoy having their pets be submissive to them, and examine whether this predicts a preference for dogs rather than cats. This would clarify that it is this enjoyment of deference specifically that relates to preferring dogs, rather than some other factor underlying the correlation between preferring dogs and SDO and competiveness."
"It could also clarify whether this correlation is driven by a desire or appreciation for deference from a pet among dog owners, a desire or appreciation for autonomy from a pet among cat owners, or both," authors continued.
The study's authors see the results as not just first date conversation or the basis for a rom-com. The authors concluded, "These findings suggest the preference for one particular pet over another is not a trivial matter of taste, but says something important about people's fundamental personality attributes and ways of seeing the world."