So, I found an interesting claim:

British journalist Jon Ronson is obsessed with obsessives. He’s best known for writing the book behind the George Clooney film “The Men Who Stare At Goats.” In his latest book, Jon Ronson has turned his own obsessive eye toward psychopaths. The book is called “The Psychopath Test.”

[....................]

One of the stranger characteristics of psychopaths is their choice of pets. Ronson says they are almost never cat people. “Because cats are willful,” he explains.

Psychopaths gravitate toward dogs since they are obedient and easy to manipulate. Ronson says he spoke with individuals who would qualify as psychopaths who told him they aren’t sad when they hear about people dying. “But they get really upset when their dogs die because dogs offer unconditional love.”

I was unable to find the justification for this claim with some searching and as such specific statements never tend to be very true, I thought this one should be put to the test.

To this end, I appended the question

If you had to choose, what would you describe yourself as?
A ‘dog person’.
A ‘cat person’.
I don’t want to answer.

to the end of the Psychopathy Scale as a “research item”. The scale is short questionnaire used for the study of psychopathy in adult populations. It can not diagnose psychopathy, but it correlates very well with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist which can. In measures two scales: primary psychopathy (things like arrogance, manipulativeness, callousness, lying) and secondary psychopathy (things like irresponsibility, impulsiveness, lack of long-term goals and boredom proneness).

Here are the results,

Answer Primary psychopathy Secondary psychopathy #
Dog person 2.44 2.67 304
Cat person 2.54 2.84 283
Didn’t answer 2.92 2.94 102

As can be seen, dog people actually scored lower for both dimensions of psychopathy than cat people, although not by much. The claim would appear to be wrong.

6 Comments

  1. J David Eisenberg says:

    You said “..lower for both dimensions of psychopathy than cat people, although not by much.” Is it a statistically significant difference? If it’s not, then the fact that one is lower doesn’t really mean anything at all. (If you did a run an independent samples t-test, I’d like to know the results.)

    • admin says:

      Once I saw that Ronson was obviously wrong I really did not push it any further.

      I went back and ran the tests you requested now, though. The difference in secondary psychopathy between dog and cat groups was significant (p=0.03) the difference in primary psychopathy was not (p=0.34).

  2. Nick says:

    Need a third column for control group or cant draw inferences.

  3. Alex McConnell says:

    If they’re a psychopath, then their answer to the question is more going to be about what they think other people think of their answer and not their true feelings. If they say they’re a cat person, it’s because they think people will view someone who identifies as a cat person as less psychopathic. The tests that identify psychopaths and sociopaths don’t do so by taking their answers at face value!

  4. Jason says:

    Answer Primary psychopathy Secondary psychopathy #
    Dog person 2.44 2.67 304
    Cat person 2.54 2.84 283
    Didn’t answer 2.92 2.94 102

    > but would you trust a psychopath to answer truthfully?
    Probably a more valid study would be observational, without the subjects knowing of the study. I know that when you study someone, and they know they are being observed, their behavior changes. Polling questions are also problematic in that many people think about “what should I write down, in order to be perceived as normal?”

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