Sometimes, our pets can be a reflection of us as individuals. Whether you own a cat, dog or even a lizard, these members of the household can offer a window into our soul. Interestingly, though, little research has been done to examine whether our choice in pets shows anything deeper about our lifestyle, beliefs or personality. That is, until the Scientific American Mind magazine decided to look into the subject. And what the publication found may surprise you.
10. Cold-blooded exotic pets
Naturally, pets go way beyond your standard dog or cat. World Atlas found that nearly 370,000 Americans own reptiles as of 2020, for instance. They’re actually the fourth most popular pet in the country. Interestingly, research by Scientific American Mind also found that the personality traits of owners differed depending on their gender.
Male and female exotic pet owners also had different temperaments on average compared to their traditional pet counterparts, according to the study. Men who own such pets are apparently less friendly, while women in that category like to experience new things. Perhaps that’s a reason they own less common pets in the first place?
What’s more, turtle owners seem to have different personalities to snake lovers. On average, the research claimed that people with pet turtles are more hard-working than those with horses, birds and other fellow reptiles. Slow and steady really does seem to win the race, then. The Scientific American Mind study also found turtle parents are more “reliable and upwardly mobile.”
When it comes to snake owners, you may not be surprised to learn that they are unconventional, the research claims. It added that these individuals also think of themselves as more “neat and tidy” than any other group. They also consider their slithery friends to be part of the family more than every other pet-owning group.
If you own a horse, chances are you’ll be fairly privileged. The study claims that not only are you more likely to hold an advanced degree, you’re also probably a home owner and live in a rural area. But that’s not all: the research claims that you’ll be more assertive, too.
And personality traits among horse owners differ in terms of gender when compared to those who have birds, turtles and snakes as pets. For instance, men tend to be more aggressive and dominant in social situations. Women, meanwhile, are almost the polar-opposite. Yes, the research claims that they are much more easy going.
And if you’re wondering what horse owners have to say about themselves, the research has you covered there, too. When they were talking about their personality traits, horse parents said they were reliable in a pinch. They also said they were good at keeping motivated. But male and female horse lovers diverted on other personality traits.
As we found earlier, female horse parents tend to show a more relaxed social nature than their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, are less apparently friendly. Though the research adds that they are also deep thinkers, so it’s not all bad for the guys!
Interestingly, bird-owning households are less common in the U.S. than houses which own reptiles. But there are still people who like our flying friends, and they really do flock together. You see, among the groups out there which own pets, people who kept birds were the most social.
Actually, the Scientific American Mind study indicates that female bird parents are particularly dominant in social situations compared to owners of snakes, horses and turtles. Perhaps it has something to do with their pets being able to answer back – they get more conversational practice! But jokes aside: there’s more to it than that. Both male and female bird owners apparently have a soft side to their personalities, too.
In fact, the research revealed that bird owners have nurturing personalities. They consider themselves to be polite and caring, so bird people like to take others under their wing. You’d think that being attentive to others’ needs could make them highly employable. But the study says differently.
The other thing that the study discovered about these pet parents is that they’re home birds. They have the highest rates of unemployment across all the other pet groups. Interestingly, these people are also more likely to live in the western United States.
7. Guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are social animals by nature, but according to Scientific American Mind, their owners are less so. They’re the pet owners who are least likely to consider themselves as extroverts. On the other hand, that might be one of the reasons a guinea pig companion fits them so perfectly.
It’s natural to become lonely if you don’t spend much time in the company of others. But guinea pigs are affectionate little creatures that love to cuddle – making them appealing snuggle buddies. So, their warm personality could be just what the doctor ordered if your disposition is generally a little reserved.
And because they’re so personable, guinea pigs need time away from the same four walls – or bars, in their case. According to the Humane Society, the animals love discovering new places and yearn for daily interaction – even if it’s just sitting on your lap.
Then there’s the fact that guinea pigs ideally need the company of others of their kind. So their parents need to have a lot of love to give. Anyone who can effectively look after several guinea pigs would have to be pretty caring and conscientious, don’t you think?
World Atlas ranks rabbits as the sixth most popular pet in America – with over 150,000 houses owning one as of 2020. And they’re also a pretty interesting bunch to analyze, too. You see, the facts about rabbit owners were at odds in some ways with how the owners thought of themselves. So what did the Scientific American Mind research discover?
Well, the researchers cited another unnamed study which ranked rabbit owners as the most nervous of all pet owners. Not only that, but it also found that they were the most likely to be introverted in social situations, too. Though that doesn’t mean that they don’t like people. At least, that’s according to the pet parents themselves.
Rabbit owners called themselves both warm and sympathetic when they were prompted to reveal something about their personalities. Don’t let them watch Watership Down, then. That’s a tearjerker even if you’re not a bunny parent! According to the study, though, they also said they were open to new experiences.
It seems contrary that the most nervous of all the pet owners would be willing to try new things. But perhaps rabbit owners are simply open-minded in spite of their jitters. And this description is somewhat proven in other studies, too. A separate poll conducted by the British pet insurance company Petplan found that this group see themselves as creative types.
5. Unusual Pets
Aside from the most popular pet species, Scientific American Mind’s data revealed a massive variety in animal companions. Some were of course more unusual than others, like sugar gliders – a type of tiny possum – and insects. What’s more, more esoteric pet parents don’t always just stick to one species.
Sadly, the aforementioned study didn’t examine what kind of person keeps the less common types of pets. Though National Geographic spoke to a petting zoo owner and horse trainer from Florida called Leslie-Ann Rush in 2014. She was apparently the proud owner of pets including a potbellied pig, lemurs, a muntjac deer and kangaroos. Rush told the publication, “They’re 24/7. But they’re my family. They need me. I can’t tell you what that feels like.”
Rush continued, “I wake up every morning and come out here, and all my animals come rushing up to greet me. I feel loved, and that feels great.” Meanwhile, another person called Michelle Berk – who owns an exotic mammal called a kinkajou – told National Geographic that she craved new experiences.
Berk went on, “I wanted something different, something unusual… We didn’t get a dog because there’s nothing cool or outstanding about owning a dog. A kinkajou – now that seems untouchable. And who doesn’t want the untouchable? They say don’t touch it, so you want to touch it.” That kind of depends what it is, though, right?!
For hamsters, the Scientific American Mind researchers picked up on one recurring personality trait. Of all the pet owners, those who have hamsters are more likely to fill their brains with knowledge. Apparently, they are the most likely group to have advanced degrees. Who would have thought it?
You see, that’s the thing about hamsters – they’re nocturnal and spend most of the day asleep. So their best caretakers are probably ones who have a similar schedule and can sit up at night with them. That said, hamsters are often bought as pets for children.
As many of you reading this will know, hamsters are popular among kids. After all, they’re small, easy to handle and don’t pose much danger. Most children aren’t that into cleaning cages and filling pet bowls up, though. So, it’s more likely a parent is doing the messy jobs, but either way they’re common family pets.
In 2018 experts at the Universities of Liverpool, Southampton and Manchester in England analyzed 17 different studies on the benefits of pets. They found that looking after dogs, cats and even hamsters could help mental illness – including depression and PTSD. For instance, the study cited one woman who said that the simple act of feeding the hamster and cleaning its cage gave her purpose.
According to World Atlas, over 100,000 households across the U.S. own fish – making them the third most popular pet. So what did Scientific American Mind’s analysis garner about their owners? Apparently, people with aquatic housemates describe themselves in two ways: emotionally stable and calm. They’re probably right too – fish are great for mental health, as the company Petable revealed in 2017.
The University of Plymouth provided this information after conducting a study with volunteers watching a fish aquarium. Interestingly, it found that observing the fish “led to noticeable reductions in participants’ blood pressure and heart rate.” It makes sense, then, that places associated with high anxiety such as doctor and dentist waiting rooms have aquariums.
In 2009 ABC News also wrote about people and their pets. It spoke to Richard Wiseman – a professor at the UK’s University of Hertfordshire who ran a pet personality study. Though Wiseman’s research also revealed something about the pets’ owners, too. And those individuals who have fish gave researchers some particularly interesting feedback.
Wiseman said, “About 60 percent of fish owners claim that their fish have a very good sense of humor.” He continued, “Apparently fish are hilarious. If you spend time with [them], the greatest percentage of owners who had a great sense of humor are people who had fish.”
World Atlas ranks cats as the second most popular pet in the U.S. – with nearly 32 million households owning one. Interestingly, the Scientific American Mind study found that their owners tend to be less socially overpowering. Instead, they lean more towards neurotic tendencies, though they don’t shy away from experiencing new things.
Interestingly, cat owners are more likely to be separated, divorced or widowed than people who have other pets. Don’t despair though, there is some good news. If you have a cat, you’re apparently statistically more educated than other pet parents.
The Scientific American Mind study revealed cat owners tend to have college educations compared to people with other pets. It doesn’t stop there though. They’re also more likely to land a job as a physician or work in a science lab. Maybe education-focused individuals like cats because they largely look after themselves. It certainly leaves more time for intellectual pursuits, after all.
Also, if you own a cat, you’re most likely to live in an apartment. The felines don’t need to go into the garden to do their business, after all. What’s interesting, though, is that 50 percent of cat owners are also dog lovers, according to the aforementioned research. Though the majority of people who have dogs are exclusively canine fans.
You get no prizes for guessing that dogs are the most popular pet in the United States. Come on, that’s too easy. But we bet you didn’t know that according to World Atlas, over 48 million households owned one. There’s a reason why dogs are called man’s – and, of course, a woman’s – best friend.
Scientific American Mind found some recurring patterns in dog owners that may apply to you, too. For instance, dog lovers are generally more likely to live with other family members and consider their pet as part of that unit. And it makes sense: dogs are social animals, after all.
Dog owners are also more likely to have picked up their furry friends from animal shelters or rescuers. So what kind of person are they on average? Well, the publication’s data suggests that compared to cat owners, dog custodians tend to be more conscientious, outgoing and social.
So far so predictable, but here’s the curveball. Among pet owners, those with canines most frequently hold senior management jobs. That’s an alpha position, for sure. Other dog-loving vocations include nurses, IT professionals, professors, entertainers and military members. Ironically, though, they’re also less likely have a college degree. So, can human nature be predicted by what pet you own? Well, the jury may still be out on that one, but it’s certainly fun to try.