Cat in a bird house

Cat psychology. Understanding their behaviour

So often we find ourselves questioning what is our cat trying to tell us or what is the little devil thinking. Cat psychology to the rescue!

So often we find ourselves questioning what is our cat trying to tell us or what is the little devil thinking. Cat psychology to the rescue!

You can’t help but wonder what’s happening in their cute little heads.

Contrary to the popular belief, cats are far more social than we might think. But, like in humans, their environment and the way we treat them affects how they react and many times we might label them as unsocial or as being solitary/reclusive without understanding what triggered that behaviour.

That is why, if we care about them, it’s important to learn more about how they think and act. The better we understand them, the easier will be for both them and us.

The personality of cats and the ‘Feline Five

Even if the idea of animals having personalities was rejected by the scientific community not so long ago, a study involving 2,802 pet cats and measuring 52 personality traits, published by Carla Litchfield on PLOS ONE (The ‘Feline Five’: An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus)) found 5 (five) reliable personality factors (scoring low to high):

  • Neuroticism – reflecting strongest levels of traits, such as insecure, anxious, fearful of people, suspicious and shy;
  • Extraversion – revealing traits normally associated with Self-control including decisive, aimless, persevering and quitting
  • Dominance – reflects bullying, dominant and aggressive to other cats;
  • Impulsiveness – reflects impulsive, erratic and reckless;
  • Agreeableness – reflects affectionate, friendly to people and gentle;


Cats scoring high on Neuroticism (more shy) benefit from additional hiding places or access to more quiet areas. Cats with low scores for Neuroticism are bold and may travel further (if left to roam outside) increasing the risk of disease transmission for example.


Cats scoring high on Extraversion are smart, curious and inventive and may need additional stimulation and a more complex environment to avoid boredom (extra room to play, more toys, social interactions with humans or other animals). Cats with low scores on Extraversion are clumsy and aimless which may indicate health problems, requiring individual assessment from a veterinarian.


High scores on Dominance reflects the tendency of being more dominant and aggressive to other cats (bully) while low scores reflect a more friendly and submissive cat.


Scoring high on Impulsiveness means a more erratic, reckless cat and it may also indicate that the cat is living in an stressful environment that will have negative effects on the cat’s health. Owners may need to seek advice from an animal behaviourist to locate the source of stress. At the same time, scoring low on Impulsiveness indicates that the cat is well adjusted to the environment and enjoys the routine.


The higher the cat scores on the Agreeableness factor, the friendlier it is and it means the cat is well adjusted and ‘happy’, which in turn can help other cats in the same environment. Scoring low on Agreeableness reflects poor socialisation, frustration or underlying pain or illness. Such a cat might be aggressive towards people.

Understanding their behaviour helps us take better care of them. Additionally, knowing and understanding a cat's personality allows us to find a cat companion more suitable to our own personality or more likely to fit in our own environment.