We’ve all heard the sayings before: Must love dogs. Time spent with cats is never wasted. Man’s best friend. There is no one more loyal than a cat. And for those of the Tinder set: Don’t like dogs? Swipe left.
Indeed, the rivalry between cat lovers and dog lovers has existed since the start of time, and the answer to that seemingly innocuous question—are you a dog lover or a cat lover?—carries with it either open arms or the death of a friendship. If we were to go by stereotype, cat lovers are, by nature, isolated creatures, usually of the female persuasion, who are haughty, judgmental, and destined for loneliness. Dog lovers, on the other hand, are affable, athletic, and energetic—the life of the party, readily pleased, and as easy to read as an open book.
Well, that rivalry is about to intensify: Recent research demonstrates quantifiable differences between people’s preferences for pets. And, as any die-hard cat owner will claim they’ve known all along, these studies suggest that cat lovers are more intelligent than dog lovers.
Cat got your tongue? Read on.
At the annual Association for Psychological Science meeting, researcher and associate professor of Psychology at Carroll University Denise Guastello found that the personality differences between cat people and dog people aren’t just an economical way of judging character. In part because of the environments they prefer, cat lovers scored higher on intelligence than dog lovers.
“It makes sense that a dog person is going to be more lively, because they’re going to want to be out there, outside, talking to people, bringing their dog,” Guastello said. On the other paw, “…if you’re more introverted, and sensitive, maybe you’re at home reading a book, and your cat doesn’t need to go outside for a walk.”
If you’re like your cat—a nonconformist, prone to spending a great deal of time alone—you are probably also more prone to using that time in solitude effectively, whether it’s reading or learning a new language. Such sensitivity and introversion may be because cats have 300 million neurons, while dogs have roughly half of that, Live Science reports. And that difference is significant, from the ability to survive in the wilderness to increased visual memory.
Turns out, it wasn’t satisfaction that brought back the curious cat, but knowledge—and a keen sense for how to use it. Cats—mercurial, mysterious, and savvy—have, over time, fine-tuned their communication skills with humans to persuade their owners to feed them when they’re hungry, accounting for more than one chagrined morning of interrupted sleep, whereas dogs are much more likely to follow their owners’ cues. And while dogs have the ability to sniff out drugs and detect cancer, among other illnesses, cats demonstrate more expressive and sophisticated vocalizations: It was found that a wild cat can manipulate an ambush to its advantage by possessing the ability to mimic the call of its prey. Further, dogs are, by and large, much more dependent on their owners than cats, for which evolution is largely responsible—dogs were domesticated 20,000 years before cats, and are notoriously obedient because of it. Cats, meanwhile, are much like their owners: Icons of independence and autonomy, which, according to some, are the hallmarks of intelligence and success.
Bark or mewl, pounce or purr, whether you prefer a pup to join you for runs around the park or a cat to sit on your lap as you read Chaucer; are an extrovert or an introvert or somewhere in between, one generalization is irrefutably true: We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. And when it comes to character, rarely does intelligence trump love and the capacity for compassion.