For ailurophiles, this is going to come as some rather sad news: dog owners are happier, more conscientious and less neurotic people than cat owners.
In a study called “Is Happiness a Warm Puppy? Examining the Relationship between Pets and Well-Being,” scientists investigated the bond between pet ownership and subjective well-being. Researchers at Manhattanville College in New York discovered that pet owners and non-owners didn’t significantly differ in terms of happiness, positive emotions, negative emotions or major personality traits. However, dog owners scored higher than cat owners on all measures of well-being. Study co-author Katherine Jacobs Bao said, “Dog owners were more extroverted, agreeable and less neurotic than cat owners."
Why did you decide to embark on this study?
I am a happiness researcher and pet owner, and I was interested in scientifically investigating how pets are related to happiness. I assumed there would be a lot of research on this topic, but I found that there were really only a few studies and none of them had looked at multiple aspects of well-being, so I decided to conduct my own study.
How did you do it?
I wanted to compare the happiness of pet owners to non-pet owners, so I recruited American participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked them to complete an online questionnaire assessing their happiness and personality. In general, there weren’t many differences between those who own pets and those who don’t. Where I did find differences, however, were between cat and dog owners.
What exactly did you discover?
I found that dog owners had greater well-being than cat owners (that is, greater happiness, life satisfaction, more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions), and I found differences in personality between cat and dog owners. Dog owners were more extroverted, conscientious, agreeable and less neurotic than cat owners.
What has further analysis showed?
Further analysis has proved that dog owners’ greater happiness could be partially explained by their personality and how they regulate their emotions. It’s important to remember that this study was correlational, so we can’t conclude that dogs make people happier. It may be that happier people choose to adopt dogs.
Do you intend to continue your research?
I’m currently conducting a longitudinal study following pet owners over their first year of pet ownership to try to disentangle some of these effects. I’m hoping ultimately to isolate some of the factors that contribute to our happiness and satisfaction, so that we can keep owners happy with their pets and reduce the number of animals returned to shelters.
- By Dmitry Belyaev