• Elita • Nomadic Thunker

Are You a Cat-person or a Dog-person?

You can also listen to Nomadic Thunker Says wherever you stream podcasts.

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Some context and an introduction:

It is one thing to try listening to one’s thoughts and it’s quite another thing to write those thoughts down, then read them out aloud with the Record button turned on followed by not only having the option of replaying that out to yourself but also offering that option to literally anyone on the planet right now with internet access!

And yet… here I am!

Hi, this is Elita and you’re listening to Nomadic Thunker Says which is born out of a felt need to reach more people beyond merely a text, read-only format. I have been a blogger for a decade and I continue to be one. I also design and organize workshops on using writing as a medium for self-expression, which I owe immensely to the practice of blogging and journaling.

In June 2020, while revamping my website, I deliberated over what I wanted to continue blogging about. The deliberations went on for a few weeks and the result? The audio waves in your ears right now.

In the spirit of not reserving the making of new resolutions to the month of January alone, I am kickstarting two series this July

One is titled ‘डाकूTommy 011’ - which is an attempt to visibilize everyday binaries & false dichotomies

And the second is titled, ‘we have to talk’ - which is an attempt to explore well-known but lesser understood everyday topics beyond their superficial understanding

So, every month – starting now - I will write and read out a topic each for both these series, on a fortnightly basis

Ready to dive in?

Accha, tell me: “Are you a 'cat-person' or a 'dog-person'?”

For a long time – a really long time – I have been a self-professed ‘dog person’.

I grew up around a dog, I have had my fair share of being chased by dogs, and yet, I have primarily been a dog person; at least that is what I would go around reaffirming to whomsoever whenever I was required to give in to the social mores of indulging in small-talk!

My favourite cartoons, on the other hand, have been Tom & Jerry, Top Cat, Sylvester & Tweety, and of course, Garfield.

Truth is, back then, I believed in the false dichotomy that you were either 'DASH' or 'DASH'. In this instance, you had to either be a dog-person or a cat-person.

You could never be both.

You could never be neither.

But wait, what does false dichotomy mean?

As with all things millennial existence, I turned to the one true दूत (doot)/emissary of answers, Google, for the meaning and this is what I found: A false dichotomy or false dilemma occurs when an argument presents two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives. In general, a false dichotomy gives the impression that the two opposite options are mutually exclusive (that is, only one of them may be the case, never both) and that at least one of them is true, that is, they represent all of the possible options.

Hmm. Why did I choose 'the cat-person vs. dog-person' dichotomy?

I thought it would be befitting to begin this part of my text-meets-audio series (which is not a podcast, btw) by revisiting this forced polarity of dog v/s cat person for two reasons.

One, it’s a topic that seems like a harmless, juvenile Buzzfeed Quiz, at best but has the potential to be quite divisive. More on that in a moment.

The second reason is that this part of my text-meets-audio series is called डाकूTommy 011, which, if you have been paying close attention, is a wordplay on 'dichotomy' itself and where Tommy is a tribute to every Indian street dog. Because that’s what most of them get named!

By the way – and you may treat this as an FYI – डाकूTommy [Bandit Tommy] is a patch-eye street dog fighting everyday false dichotomies. They believe that most of life's experiences (true for dogs and humans - and maybe cats too) cannot be simplistically broken down only to two options of 'This' or 'That'. They would like to clarify that they are not a real-life bandit. They only dig that alter-ego (a lot) and are of the opinion that humans are likelier to pay attention to what a patch-eye canine has to say!

Yes, I have a mascot and yes, I am prone to bouts of amusing myself at all times. But now, back to the question: are you a dog person or a cat person…?

But first, let's see what 'research' says

Led by my itch to scratch beneath the surface, I looked up to Google Baba (again!) and stumbled upon research. I was stunned. This wasn’t only some BuzzFeed quiz.

As it turns, out in 2010, a team of researchers – clearly more focussed and purpose-driven than me - led by psychologist Sam Gosling at the University of Texas, Austin wanted to find out what people’s preference for dog or cat implied about them. As part of a larger study on personality - called the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project - they posted the questionnaire online, attracting it around 4500 respondents!

Similar such ‘personality’ studies have been undertaken in 2014 at Carroll University in Wisconsin (USA) and in 2015 at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

As I was looking at this pop up across the multiple tabs before me, I thought to myself: "Jeez Louise! There is research on this? THIS?"

Obviously, I was more stoked than shocked.

When I thought about this topic and considered looking stuff up, I had no clue what I would find. But personality profiling based on whether one believes one is a dog or a cat person?

Remember how I said “nothing more than a harmless BuzzFeed Quiz turning into something that is anything but harmless?” I was now learning that people take these things seriously. Very seriously. That being a dog or a cat person is used as a metric for deciding likeability, employability, and other variations of compatibility.

That people rely on this to make decisions, feels problematic no?

So, what do I find problematic about the cat-person vs. dog-person dichotomy

For starters, nowhere did I find it clarified what is meant by ‘dog person’ or ‘cat person’!

Am I ‘dog person’ if I like dogs more OR am I ‘dog person’ if I believe my personality traits are similar to those of a dog?

Likewise, for ‘cat person’.

I don't know.

Here's why I think this is relevant:

In one instance, it was said that “the terms dog people and cat people refer to a person's domesticated pet animal preference." Okay, but this was quickly followed by: "The two terms refer to people's self-identification, regardless of what pets they actually own, if any”

Based on the English I know and understand, these sound like contradictory statements.

In my own case, my preference of domesticated pet animal has always been a dog and my self-identification has been towards cats (something I’ve chosen to be in denial about)!

There were other instances across articles I found where dog/cat lover is used interchangeably with dog/cat owner. Those two are not identical categories of people.

Side note: Did you know that there’s a word for someone who ‘loves’ both, cats and dogs? They’re called bi-petuals apparently.

Meanings and definitions aside, the results from these studies/surveys – call it what you want – are amusing!

“Dog people score higher on extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Cat people score higher on neuroticism and openness”. -- Turns out the University of Texas study mapped its results on to The Big Five Personality Test and the differences reported were in the 10-15% range, like “Dog people were 11% more conscientious than cat people” and “Cat people were 11% more likely to be open”

Elsewhere on the Internet, it’s raining listicles and within them, prophesies. “Dog people are far more sociable and outgoing than cat people” and “Cat people are more likely to live alone and in apartments than dog people.”

Erm, if I have a dog – which I do - I need to take them for walks more than just a couple of times a day. Does that make me ‘more sociable’? I’m sure my dog will disagree. Secondly, if I like the idea of having a pet and already live in an apartment, I am more likely to consider a smaller animal – like a cat. Doesn’t it mean that I am a cat-owner - which BTW is a misnomer since nobody can own cats. Cats own themselves. My cat can testify - … anyhoo, the point being: am I not likelier to be a cat-owner because I already live in an apartment rather than vice versa?

If like me, you find that bizarre, I’m happy to report that there’s an article mapping the zodiac signs to the likelihood of being a dog or a cat person!

No comments

And I could keep going on.

Mostly because it’s fun.

Okay, okay... So, now getting to why this talk about cats, dogs, and silly data findings

If something as banal as 'are you a cat-person or a dog-person' can reveal so many gaps and throw up so many counter-questions, simply because I wanted to make a thought-experiment out of this on a whim, what does it say about our other dearly held false dichotomies?

More importantly, what does it say about the media stories we devour unquestioningly!

For all that talk about celebrating our differences, how are we truly faring when we are constantly being pitted against each other? The last I heard, “Cat people tended to be non-conformists, as well as scoring higher on intelligence tests than dog lovers”. I mean… did no one stop to wonder why then, were those cat people taking that test in the first place? Let’s not even get me started about the gender stereotypes propagated based on whether one is a dog or cat person. I’mma reserve my thoughts for a later post on the false dichotomies around gender binaries!

The point I’m trying to make is that research and studies and surveys can be flawed in several ways and for several reasons. False dichotomies leave out and even erase other already co-existing possibilities. Interpretation of data emerging from studies can be misguided to represent and communicate, i.e. tell a story that represents partisan views.

Banal as it may seem, as I was reading through what I kept finding on the dog-person/cat-person dichotomy, I was reminded of the line: "It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt"

And lest it seem like this was an exercise on taking the piss out of the 'are you a cat-person or a dog-person' clickbait articles that make a customary appearance once every other month, I want us to be reminded that this is an argument against the 'DASH or DASH' narrative. This is an argument in favour of reframing our narratives to refocus on the diversity of options that exist between, and perhaps even beyond, the 'DASH or DASH'. This is an argument in favour of re-learning a perspective towards 'DASH and DASH'.

So here are questions I want to leave you with:

Which are the areas of your life where false dichotomies show up?

What are the ways in which you would like to move away from them?

And while you begin to figure out those answers for yourself, here’s an interesting question from a Redditor:

‘As a dog or a cat person, what do you have to say to a fish person?’

Person R: Do you have to put the fish on a leash when you take it for a walk?

Person G: I think they are pretty cool to look at but you can’t cuddle with them :(

Oh, and I did take the BuzzFeed Quiz after all. Turns out, I’m a Cat Person!

This will be all from me for today. Thank you for listening in. I’ll be back with “डाकूTommy 011” on the first Sunday of every month attempting to tackle another pair of false dichotomies. But before that, I’ll return with: “we have to talk”, the second thematic series on well-known but lesser understood everyday topics that I will kickstart on the 19th as a recurring series on the third Sunday of every month.

So, if there are false dichotomies you've been foxtrotting with, I'd be curious to hear about them from you!

Related post(s):

My Life with Titan the mutt and Mr. Cat

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