London: People are more likely to assign positive personality traits to orange cats and less favourable ones to white and tortoiseshell ones, researchers have found.

Interested in the link between how cat colour influences adoption rates, a University of California, Berkeley, a researcher surveyed 189 people and found that orange cats were largely regarded as friendly, white cats as aloof and tortoiseshell cats as intolerant.

The results are noteworthy because feline typecasting can have a negative impact on adoption rates at animal shelters, the study suggests.

"To date there is little evidence that these perceived differences between differently coloured cats actually exist, but there are serious repercussions for cats if people believe that some cat colours are friendlier than others," Mikel Delgado, lead author of the study, said.

"We hope that this study will be a starting point for further research in what qualities affect adoption and retention of pet cats, and whether there is a genetic or physical basis (such as coat colour) for personality differences in cats.

"Previous research supports the existence of 'black cat syndrome,' where black and brown cats are less likely to be adopted than cats of other colours.

"We were interested in whether people's perceptions of the interaction between personality and coat colour might play a part," she said.

To establish a link between how cat colour influences adoption rates, Delgado and her co-authors used Craigslist to recruit a national sample of cat owners and cat lovers in large U.S. metropolitan areas.

Participants were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 7, the personalities of black, white, bi-coloured, tri-coloured (tortoiseshell or calico) and orange cats based on their tendencies to be active, aloof, bold, calm, friendly, intolerant, shy, stubborn, tolerant and trainable.

While most people surveyed said personality informs their decision about which cat to adopt, the characteristics they ascribed to cats based on their coat colour indicated that colour consciously or unconsciously played a key role in their final choice of which kitty to take home.

Overall, orange cats and bi-coloured cats were characterized as friendly, while black cats, white cats and tri-coloured cats were regarded as more antisocial. White cats were considered to be more shy, lazy and calm, while tortoiseshell cats were more likely to be depicted as both more intolerant and more trainable.

Black cats were typified as having less extreme character traits, which might contribute to their mysterious reputation.

At the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society (BEBHS), cat coordinator Cathy Marden is all too familiar with the psychology involved in pet adoptions. Staff members and volunteers there try to break down stereotypes at every opportunity, she said, and descriptions of each cat written on the adoption rooms cages highlight the individual's characteristics.

"You can't judge a cat by its colour," she said.

"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 colour - that will let you know if the animal's the right fit for you," Marden said.

Still, reactions to black cats can be so strong, she said, that few adoptions take place at the shelter when there are more than a few black cats in the adoption room.

The study has been published online in Anthrozoos.


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