People can guess pretty successfully what breed of dog a person might own just by looking at the owner, a new study finds.
A group of 70 people who do not own dogs were asked to match photos of 41 dog owners to three possible breeds — Labrador, poodle or Staffordshire bull terrier. They matched the owners to the dogs more than half the time. Yet given three choices, they should have been right only about a third of the time.
"This suggests that certain breeds of dogs are associated with particular kinds of people," said study leader Lance Workman, a psychologist at Bath Spa University in the UK.
It's no secret that people are obsessed with pets. Two-thirds of American households have at least one, and dogs are the top choice (though by sheer numbers, fish win out).
And dog owners are particularly so, suggests a study in 2007 that found when a pet goes missing, dog owners contact and visit shelters much sooner than cat owners.
The analysis runs deep: Those who don't own dogs used stereotypes to match the dogs to their owners, Workman figures. "These stereotypes persisted into judgments of the dog owners' personalities: non dog owners considered the owners of each breed to share certain personality traits, such as level of conscientiousness and emotional stability."
The real connection is only skin deep, however.
"But when we tested the dog owners' personalities, we found no strong links between any particular personality trait and choice of dog breed, so any shared qualities are only skin deep," Workman said.
A similar phenomenon happens among couples. People tend to be attracted to those who have personalities similar to their own, according to a study done in 2006. And as time goes on, similarities in appearance grow, explaining why some older couples look alike.
The canine findings were presented yesterday at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton.
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Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.