Your house cat might be a tiny, bloodthirsty lion, just waiting to feast on your meaty organs, researchers say. Cat owners say that’s fine.
A study by the University of Edinburgh compares domestic and wild cats, using the “Big Five” personality traits commonly used to describe humans. The house cats exhibited strong tendencies toward “dominance, impulsiveness, and neuroticism,” characteristics they share with African lions, the study revealed.
But cat owners tend to view their pets’ wild streak as a lovable quirk, rather than a legitimate threat that their cats would eat them if given half a chance.
“Cats are just mini lions because that’s who they descend from,” Kate McIndoe, owner of two cats told the Daily Beast. “It in no way lessens my love for them.”
If anything, cats’ impulsive, standoffish nature has been celebrated in popular culture. Consider Grumpy Cat, the perpetually frowning feline who became the Internet’s favorite pessimistic meme. A webcomic detailing “How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You” was so popular it was published as a full-length book in 2012, shooting to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. YouTube runneth over with videos of cats knocking valuables off shelves and tables, making eye-contact with the camera like destructive sociopaths.
But unlike a lion, or even a large dog, cats’ size keeps their destruction and their appetite cute.
“I think it’s neat to watch a domesticated animal retain their less-than-domesticated instincts,” cat-owner Zoe Schlager said. “She’s not actually going to manage to eat me, I don’t think, so it’s more intriguing than anything. Certainly more interesting than having an obedient dog.”
Other cat owners argued that the study was unfair to felines.
“I don’t think that it makes sense to use personality tests developed for humans to determine cats’ personalities,” recent kitten adopter Peter Sterne said. “The idea that cats are ‘neurotic’ is absurd. Cats are not ‘neurotic’ because ‘neurotic’ is a human characteristic.”
The University of Edinburgh study, as Sterne notes, describes cats using the “Big Five” personality traits of "openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism”. These soft-science characteristics are usually ascribed to humans, not to other animals. To apply them to cats, some argue, is to draw a false equivalency, ignoring cats’ vastly different lifestyle and evolutionary history.
“It’s like, would Hunter kill me if he were the size of a lion?” Sterne said of his cat. “I guess if he were hungry he might. But that’s not because he’s ‘neurotic’; it’s because he’s a semi-domesticated animal that likes to hunt. Maybe he’d decide that he likes getting cans of wet food and so he would keep me alive.”