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.

10 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?”

  5. xyz says:

    i am sociopath and i hate animals. it is funny when people told me that this dog is cute, this cat is awesome. i don’t find those stuffs interesting. end of story

  6. L C JONES says:

    THERE CAN BE, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN, NOR WILL THERE EVER BE, AN ANSWER WITHIN THE FIELD OF PSYCHIATRY.. EVERYONE SEEM TO SPECULATE AND FORM PERSONAL OPINIONS THROUGHOUT THEIR STUDYING FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRIC DEGREES ETC… ALL THIS IS MERE THEORY AND IF YOUR QUESTION NEED A DEFINITE ANSWER , YOU WILL NEVER REALLY GET ONE, AND NO ONE WILL RESOLVE AN ISSUE TO THIS QUESTIONING , IT HAS TO BE SOME CONCLUSION YOU ARE ABLE TO FEEL EDUCATED OPEN MINDED QUALIFIED AND UNDERSTAND THE AREA OF HEALTH AND THE CONCEPT OF THEORY IS RATHER FRUSTRATING FOR EVERYONE, SOMETIMES THIS AREA OF MIND STUDY AND MENTAL HEALTH WILL BECOME AN ENEMY , UNLESS YOU USE BASIC FUNDAMENTAL THINKING, EINSTEIN SAID: EVERYTHING SHOULD BE MADE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE ..BUT NOT SIMPLER..

    EVERY DOCTOR, NURSING STAFF PSYCHOLOGIST FORENSIC ETC.. NEED TO BE ABLE TO FORM THEIR OWN DECIDE THEORY AND METHODS OF ASSESSMENTS WITH INDIVIDUALS AND HENCE THE NEED FOR NO LESS THAN 4 DIFFERENT OPINIONS, DIAGNOSIS AND CONCLUDING EVIDENCE TO RESULT IN A COMBINED RESULT TO WHICH ALL FIND THEY HAVE THE SAME RESULT, IS A PERSON UNDER ASSESSMENT IF THOUGHT TO POSSIBLE SHOW PSYCHOPATHIC SYMPTOM OR TENANCIES.. WELL ALL , WHO WORK IN THIS AREA OF MEDICINE EACH HAVE TO RELY ONE OUR ON “BIBLES” COMPILED BY OURSELVES THROUGHOUT THE TERMS STUDYING AND WORKING TO QUALIFY..
    WHAT ONE MUST NEVER DO, IS TO RISE ABOVE THE POWER THAT THROUGH THE FACT THERE IS ONLY THEORY IN PLACE AND NOTHING CAN BE PROVEN SCIENTIFICALLY 100%. THAT WE DO NOT FEEL OR EVEN ENTERTAIN PERSONAL PREJUDICE OR ISSUES OVERWHELM OR PRIORITIZE HOW WE TREAT AN INDIVIDUAL.. WE ARE PROFESSIONALS IN MEDICINE AND NOT GODS

  7. Tsadi Waw Mem Taw says:

    Well, it is without question that such a “study” is totally prejudiced by the ignorance of the researchers and thus their approach and mindset going in, and therefore the results don’t give an accurate view of things at all.

    No one is in question as to the fact that women are by far more likely to own cats than men.

    Barely anyone would dispute that women are prone to erring in favor of emotion and that which will provide them with security in a given context, even if it means doing something completely callous, disregarding the well-being of someone or something, demonstrating complete absence of practical conscience, with that amounting to at least situational psychopathy.

    Furthermore, I can personally attest to the fact that those at the opposite end of the scale from psychopaths, those of higher levels of empathy, hate cats due to their psychopath-like callousness and disregard for the suffering of others, showing no more compassion than a snake.

    I didn’t originally extrapolate this to all cats when I experienced it as a child, but have since learned, contrary to all the socialist nonsense about the diversity and individualism among man and beast, they really are all like that aside from the orientals which possess a more dog-like compassionate character.

  8. drJ says:

    This is ridiculous. The answers would never be honest. Moreover the thinking behind the study is flawed. Why would someone with psychopathy care about unconditional love? People with psychopathy quickly detest what they can manipulate and control. While its a quality they look for in victims, its not a quality they respect. And additionally, dogs are actually very needy of a time comment. Walking, feeding, taking outside to use the bathroom….etc. There is a reason couples get dogs to take care of before they have a baby. There is a need/schedule component. That is NOT something a person with psychpathy would identify with or invest in.
    If anything, a person with psychopathy would PREFER a cat. Independent, a predatory animal, can control food portion throughout the day, uses litterbox or if outdoor, goes outside, and overall, unneedy. It would be more likely to logically assume they would respect cats.
    But truly, I would think their real option would be “petless”. And the fact this wasnt even an option shows the question to be leading and seriously flawed.

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