The stereotypical “cat lady” does not really exist, a new study suggests.
Scientists investigating people’s emotional responses to “distress vocalisations” in cats and dogs - miaowing and whimpering - also compared the prevalence of anxiety and depression in pet owners.
The findings confounded their hypothesis that cat owners would show greater symptoms than dog owners or people who did not have pets, they reported in Royal Society Open Science.
In addition, people who said they experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety did not differ significantly in how negative they thought the animal noises sounded from those who did not have those symptoms, researchers found.
Overall, dog whines were rated as more sad-sounding than cats’ miaows, scientists said.
Pet owners rated a given distress sound as more negative than people who did not keep animals, while cat owners rated plaintive miaows as markedly more negative than the other groups.
The authors wrote: “Stereotypically, cat owners are viewed as lonely, more emotional, and more depressed than dog-owners.
“A pet charity reported that about 50 per cent of the Americans surveyed believed various long-standing stereotypes about cat owners, especially the ‘cat lady’ image.
“We found no evidence to support the ‘cat lady’ stereotype: cat-owners did not differ from others on self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety or their experiences in close relationships.
“Our findings, therefore, do not fit with the notion of cat owners as more depressed, anxious or alone.”
The researchers studied the reactions of 561 people, of whom 111 were male.
Thirty-one people owned a only a cat, 184 owned only a dog, and 49 owned both.