If you’re a heterosexual man looking for love this Valentine’s Day, here’s something you probably don’t want to do: include a cat in your online dating profile.
“Chicks don’t want a guy with a cat,” said
chief dating expert for Match, an online service that promises to connect compatible romantic partners.
In the U.S., straight men who reveal on the website that they own a cat have a 5% lower “like” rate on average compared with other straight men, and straight women who have a cat have a “like” rate that’s 7% lower than their peers, according to a spokeswoman for the company.
But cats aren’t a turnoff for everyone.
The “like” rate for gay men who divulge they own a cat is 5% higher.
It’s possible that other traits revealed in dating profiles are responsible for the lagging appeal of heterosexual cat owners. But studies suggest the problem is the pet.
Would you consider a relationship with this man?
not interested in dating
Note: The researchers took two photos of two men. One photo showed each man alone; the other with a cat. Two groups of women viewed the pairs of photos – they saw the same man with and without a cat – and rated the photos on a series of questions.
Illustrations: Dylan Moriarty/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Source: the journal Animals; Lori Kogan, Colorado State University; Shelly Volsche, Boise State University
an anthropologist at Boise State University, and
a psychologist at Colorado State University, hypothesized that women would find a man with a cat more attractive because the cat would make him seem more trustworthy, gentle and caring—attributes that might signal his value as a potential long-term mate and future father.
To test the idea, the researchers showed groups of heterosexual women photos of a man with a cat and another photo of the same man without a cat. Two different men were photographed sitting in a chair against a white background. Each wore a blue shirt, and each was pictured alone in one photo and with a cat on his lap in the second photo. The same cat, a ginger tabby, was used both times.
A group of 708 women saw photos of one of the men, and a second group of 680 women saw photos of the other.
Whether the women saw the cat photo first or second was randomized, but regardless of the order, the man photographed with a cat was viewed as less masculine, more neurotic and, ultimately, less datable.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Animals, has limitations. Only women ages 18 to 24 participated, a range selected because that’s traditionally when women begin looking for a long-term mate. Both men who posed for the photographs were college-age and white.
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“They’re clearly preppy white kids,” Dr. Volsche said. “We didn’t have one in a leather jacket. There was no Jason Momoa hair.”
The researchers plan a follow-up study that will, among other things, use photos of men shown mostly from behind who have a “globalized” skin tone, which Dr. Volsche said could appear to be either a darker-toned white person or a lighter-toned person of color.
“We’re trying to narrow it down to being about the cat,” she said.
The results from their initial effort surprised the researchers because previous studies had suggested that having a pet increases someone’s sex appeal.
‘Dogs are winning.’
In a 2015 study co-written by Dr. Volsche and published in Anthrozoös, a peer-reviewed journal of the interactions of people and animals, women reported being more likely to be attracted to a man because he had a pet—and men reported being more likely to use a pet to obtain a date.
Few of either sex reported that a relationship couldn’t work with a “dog person.” But a higher fraction of women than men said a relationship couldn’t work with a “cat person.”
“Dogs are winning,” Ms. DeAlto said, a conclusion also supported by Match’s data. The “like” rate for both straight and gay men who have dogs is 20% higher on average, and the “like” rate for women is 3% higher.
Valentine’s Day and The Numbers
A French study published by Anthrozoös in 2008 provides further support. In an experiment, 240 women ranging in age from approximately 18 to 25 were approached on the street by a handsome 20-year-old man (sometimes with a dog) who asked for their phone numbers.
An attractive man was used because pretests showed it was generally difficult to obtain phone numbers from young women in the street, and the man who participated was identified by a group of women as highly attractive.
The dog—a mongrel with a medium-length black coat—was chosen based on the results of a separate pretest that showed the pet was perceived to be kind, dynamic and pleasant.
When the man was alone, he retrieved numbers from about 9% of the women he approached. But when he was accompanied by the dog, he got three times as many.
The researchers cautioned that women might not find every dog equally fetching.
But the feline evidence is mounting.
When it comes to cats, women are finicky.
Write to Jo Craven McGinty at Jo.McGinty@wsj.com
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