Dog owners take more risks, cat owners are more cautious – new research examines how people conform to stereotypical pet traits

(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) The research summary is a brief overview of interesting scholarly work.

The big idea

Dog owners tend to take greater risks and respond more to reward-oriented advertisements. Cat owners, on the other hand, are more cautious and more likely to react to ads emphasizing risk aversion. These are the two main findings of the new peer-reviewed research I co-authored.

My dog ​​Midoo is always eager to join me in various activities and never hesitates to show his enthusiasm when people show up at the door. In contrast, my Mipom cat is more alert and wary around strangers, keeping a comfortable distance from people. I wondered if their general provisions impact my own behavior or the decisions I make?

These are the questions I hoped to answer in a series of 11 studies I conducted with fellow marketing professors Xiaojing Yang and Yuwei Jiang.

Our first pair of studies looked at data on pet ownership in US states and compared it to several crude measures of risk taking. For example, we found that people in states with a higher share of dog owners, such as North Dakota, had a higher prevalence of COVID-19 infections in 2020 than states with more dog owners. cats, like Vermont. Although we controlled for political orientation and other variables, our results show only a correlation. The reason dog ownership appears to be associated with more COVID-19 cases, for example, could be that dog owners take more risks — or simply need to take their pets outside more often, which means greater exposure.

In another study, we wanted to obtain data at the individual level, so we used an online survey tool to recruit 145 owners of either a cat or a dog – not both. We gave participants an imaginary amount of US$2,000 and asked them to invest part of it in a risk-equity fund or a more conservative mutual fund. Dog owners, who made up 53% of participants, were much more likely to invest in stocks and put more money at risk than cat owners.

The results of this study were also correlational in nature. Thus, in the other studies, we sought to document causality.

For example, we asked 225 people to view four print ads featuring a cat or dog and then decide how to allocate a $2,000 investment, similar to the previous study. We found that exposure to dogs led participants to be more likely to invest more money in stocks.

Another study recruited 283 undergraduate students and asked them to recall a past experience involving a cat or dog. They then randomly read an ad for a massage company that either highlighted how massages increase metabolism, boost immunity and rejuvenate the body – messages that psychologists have found appealing to reward-seeking people – or how they soothe aches, relieve tension and reduce stress – phrases that tend to work best on cautious people. We told them that the company offered $50 gift cards to several attendees based on how much they were willing to bid.

Students who recalled an interaction with a dog offered significantly higher bids when exposed to rewards-oriented ads rather than risk-averse ones. In contrast, those who remembered a cat offered much higher bids when they saw ads focused on risk aversion.

We believe these effects occur because people form mental associations of stereotypical pet temperaments and personalities – dogs like Midoo are impatient, cats like Mipom are cautious. As a result, upon exposure to dogs or cats, these associations rise to the top of the mind and influence decisions and behaviors, an effect confirmed by our studies.