Black cats may bring bad luck, but to themselves rather than to people. A new study suggests that sable-colored felines are stereotyped as more aloof than their orange peers, a prejudice that may help explain why black cats take longer to be adopted than other colored kitties.
The findings, published in the Dec. 4 issue of the journal Anthrozoos, suggest that prejudice against black cats goes beyond superstition.
"Previous research supports the existence of 'black cat' syndrome, where black and brown cats are less likely to be adopted than cats of other colors," Mikel Delgado, a researcher at University of California at Berkeley, said in a statement. "We were interested in whether people’s perceptions of the interaction between personality and coat color might play a part."
Black cats often languish in shelters, and a 2002 study found that sable-colored kitties are more likely to be euthanized than other cats. Researchers suspected that potential adopters were reacting to the superstition that black cats are bad luck. Since medieval times, cats have been unfairly tarred as familiars, or supernatural creatures who help witches. [13 Halloween Superstitions & Traditions Explained]
But the prejudice against cats with certain coat colors may go beyond superstition. To see how, Delgado found cat lovers on Craigslist and asked them to rate black, multicolored (such as tabby), and orange cats on personality measures such as friendliness, laziness and stubbornness.
All the cat aficionados said personality was the most important factor in choosing a cat. However, kitties of different colors were ascribed different personality traits.
Black cats were seen as more antisocial than other types of cats, along with their white and three-tone brethren. Overall, orange cats were perceived as the friendliest.
Black cats in general had less extreme ratings on most of the measures, perhaps because people viewed these dark kitties as enigmas.
The findings suggest that shelter volunteers may have an uphill battle when convincing people to adopt black cats.
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.