Cat People, Beware — Posing With Your Pet Could Make You Appear Less Dateable

By Emily Reynolds

If you’re looking to find love on a dating app, there’s plenty you need to think about: what to include in your bio, the interests you list, and what you say you’re looking for. And in an age of rapid swiping, you’re probably going to need a knock-out profile picture too.

But don’t be too quick to assume that a picture with your pet might boost your chances — at least if you’re a male cat owner, that is. According to Lori Kogan and Shelly Volsche, writing in Animals, men holding cats in photographs are seen as less masculine, more neurotic and ultimately less dateable.

To look at the impact of cats on online dating success, the pair asked 1388 participants to complete a survey in which they saw two images of a man. In both pictures, the man was sitting in a chair against a white background, wearing a blue button-down shirt and jeans. In one picture, he was alone; in the other, he was shown with a ginger cat on his lap. The order in which participants saw these images were randomised. There were two different versions of this survey, each depicting a different man.

Kogan and Volsche
Half of the participants saw pictures of Man 1 (A) and half saw Man 2 (B). Via Kogan and Volsche (2020)

After viewing each picture, participants rated the men on several attributes including perceived personality (how extraverted, agreeable, neurotic, conscientious and open participants believed they were), perceived masculinity and femininity, and how dateable they were. Participants were also asked directly whether or not they would consider dating the man in either the short or long term, and whether or not they considered themselves to be a cat or dog person.

The presence of a cat did, in fact, have an impact on how the men were perceived. When Man 1 was pictured by himself, he was seen as more extraverted; when he was with the cat, he was seen to be more agreeable, more neurotic and more open, and less traditionally masculine.

Overall, women were also less likely to want to date the man when he was holding a cat than when alone, and tended to see him as less desirable for a long-term relationship. Unsurprisingly, women who considered themselves to be “dog people” were less likely to favour the cat picture version than women who thought of themselves as “cat people”.

Interestingly, when Man 2 was holding a cat, participants’ didn’t see his personality as any different from when he was alone. However, he was again seen as less masculine and less dateable in the short term  (though he was no less desirable when it came to the potential for a long-term relationship).

There are, fairly obviously, limitations to the study. These are big conclusions to form from small effects based on four images of two young white men, which Kogan and Volsche note themselves: the presence of cats, they write, may only be relevant to people looking to date a white male. Perceptions of masculinity are also dependent on factors like race and class, which further research may seek to explore. The strength of the findings are also somewhat undermined by the lack of effects for the second man, suggesting that other factors may also be at play.

It’s also uncertain whether women would show similar preferences when seeing images of men with other pets. Including images of men with dogs as well as cats may have made differences in perceptions clearer. More naturalistic images could also change the way men are viewed when holding animals — the photos used in the study were clearly staged, which may have made an impact on the women’s perceptions.

Limitations aside, cat lovers may be feeling disheartened by the study. But don’t worry — if the results do reflect reality, you’re probably just saving yourself the heartbreak of accidentally shacking up with a dog person.

Not the Cat’s Meow? The Impact of Posing with Cats on Female Perceptions of Male Dateability

Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest