Take Two for October 24, 2012

POLL: Black cats are 'bad luck' and how fur-color stereotypes affect adoption rates

Black Cat

trdesignr/Flickr/Creative Commons

A black cat stares into the lens of a camera. A UC Berkeley study says that stereotypes about a cat's fur color can affect whether or not a cat is adopted.

Orange Cat

Gangster Car Driver/Flickr/Creative Commons

Orange tabby cat relaxing at home.

Tortoiseshell cat

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Tortoiseshell cat at home.

Cat

The Scott/Flickr/Creative Commons

A fluffy white cat poses for a picture.

cats

cookipediachef/Flickr/Creative Commons

A pair of Siamese cats.


Do you prefer black cats? Orange cats? What about tortoiseshell-colored cats?

A new University of California, Berkeley study looks at the stereotypes humans attribute to domestic cats and their coloring, as well as how that applies to adoption rates.

KPCC producer Meghan McCarty has more.

Tell us why it's unlucky to be a black cat:
"Well, this is a story that a listener alerted us to. About a year ago a woman named Erica Hagen called me. She worked for a cat rescue program at the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City and she told me that there's a big problem this time of year with black cats being stolen and abused. That's because people want an accessory for their Halloween parties or they think black cats are evil, that kind of thing. In fact, many shelters actually won't adopt out black cats during the month of October because of these fears that people are just adopting them for the novelty and won't really provide a good lasting home for them. But Erica also told me that, 'A lot of people for whatever reason just do not like the black kittens or black cats,' said Hagen.

Now this is a phenomenon that's been well-documented, not just for cats but for dog adoptions too. It's called Black Cat Syndrome. In fact, it's such an issue that shelters go to all kinds of lengths to try to make these darker animals more appealing. They'll try special lighting in their enclosures, give them colorful blankets, and even dress them in colorful collars and clothing."


Why don't other people want a black cat?
"The answer to that may lie in a new study that's just been published by UC Berkeley. A researcher in the psychology department found that cats are often judged by their color of their coats. I talked to the lead author of the study Mikal Delgado, she asked the participants to rate the personalities of different color cats.

"We found a few significant differences to how people would assign personality traits to different colors so they were more likely to say orange cats were friendly and less likely to say white and tricolor cats were friendly. They were more likely to say white and tricolor cats were aloof and less likely to say orange cats were aloof," said Delgado.

That's orange and white cats, but what about black cats, what do people think about them?
"Well, the interesting thing was that people didn't really have strong negative or positive feelings about black cats. I mean, in general they were considered to be more antisocial than orange cats, which were the real winner in this survey. But black cats were rated as fairly neutral. So why aren't they adopted more? Delgado has a theory about that.

'You know, some people believe that they're not adopted because people think they're appearance is boring,' said Delgado. 'It may be that if people don't think they have much personality on top of the fact that they look boring, then it could be that people don't think black cats are mean so much as they're not visually appealing.'"


So is there any lesson in this for how to combat Black Cat Syndrome and get more of these animals adopted?
"Yeah, a lot of shelters are getting more pro-active when it come to profiling the personalities of their cats. So when people come to adopt, they're not just judging by the color of the coat, they actually have some kind of reference to go by. So hopefully the next time a black cat crosses your path. Maybe at the very least you'll be less scared of it and, who knows, maybe provide it a nice loving home?


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