As an animal control officer at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, Marcie Burrell watches lighter-colored cats receive more adoption offers than darker-furred cats every day.
UC Berkeley doctoral student of psychology Mikel Delgado also noticed this trend while working at an animal shelter and decided to try to find out why.
Research she published this month in the International Society for Anthrozoology journal Anthrozoos has found that humans are likely to associate certain personality traits with different feline coat colors.
Lead author Delgado and fellow researchers surveyed 189 people and determined that humans are more apt to associate “friendliness” with orange cats and “intolerance” with tricolored cats.
Study participants perceived black cats as less extreme in personality than cats of other fur colors.
“If people do have perceptions on cats based on fur colors and they don’t have any other information to go on, then they are going to go with their gut,” Delgado said.
Despite the findings, there are no major studies that link coat color and personality, according to Delgado.
The study used a seven-point Likert scale and 10 personality traits to test human perceptions of feline personalities. Participants related the personality traits — among them shy, calm and active — to five different colors of cats: tricolored, bicolored, white, black and orange.
“It’s interesting that people perceive personalities (based on) fur color in cats, especially because we kind of do it with humans too,” said Nishita Agarwal, co-president of the campus group Paws and Claws of Berkeley, which works with animals shelters in the area.
UC Berkeley sophomore Julia Martin said that though she hates all cats, she has found some more personable than others based on their fur color. Orange tabby cats aren’t too bad, she said.
“I pretty much hate them all,” Martin said. “But … black cats creep me out even more.”
However, UC Davis professor Philip Kass — who found that black and brown cats are less likely than tabby cats to be adopted in a separate 2002 study — said that while potential adopters may have different perceptions of behavior based on coat color, the difference in perceptions the Berkeley study found did not appear very great.
“I can easily believe that if you take a cat that is drop-dead gorgeous, that cat would be more likely to be adopted,” Kass said. “But what defines a drop-dead gorgeous cat, I don’t know.”
Delgado said she hopes her study will be a starting point for further research into how perceptions of cat traits affect adoption.
UC Berkeley freshman Saya Tomioka has a dark gray cat named Smokey.
“My cat is the best thing in the entire world,” Tomioka said. “I would not judge a cat based on its fur color.”