Nature vs Nurture: Your cats’ personality

Updated: Jul 31

Many cat lovers and breeders will tell you that different breeds of cats have different personalities. But how much of your cat’s personality is nature, and how much comes from your nurturing?

Thousands of years ago, as humans began developing agriculture, cats began to hang around us, and we fell into a mutually beneficial arrangement centred around rodent hunting in human settlements.


In the years since different breeds of cats have emerged, and intentional breeding for different characteristics has resulted in many different breeds of cats, all of which are described with their own personalities and behavioural traits.


Surprisingly there has been very little research done in this area, so a group of researchers from the University of Helsinki decided to investigate what impact a cats’ breed has on their personality – that is, the extent to which variations in behaviours between breeds are due to genetics (nature) rather than their upbringing (nurture).


The team studied 5,726 cats, separated into 19 breeds, by getting their owners to fill out questionnaires designed to highlight 10 different personality/behavioural traits, including attitudes towards humans and other cats, shyness, activity level and behavioural problems, the researchers were able to build a picture of how owners describe the actions and personalities of their particular breed.


And what did they find?


To quote from the published study, “substantial genetic variation exists within breed populations”.


So yes, the type of breed of cat you choose will definitely have an impact on their personality.


But breed isn’t everything.


The researchers crunched some numbers and found that the heritability of the studied behaviours was moderate – in the range of 0.4 - 0.53 (on a scale of 0 – 1), which indicates that approximately half the variance in cats’ behaviours can be attributed to genetics (nature).


The study makes it official, the type of breed your cat is will definitely have an impact on their personalities and behaviours. But their breed is not the be all and end all. Given that half of their behaviour variance can be attributed to nature, the other half can be attributed to nurture – the way you train them, raise them, treat them and nurture your kittens and cats will have a big impact on their personality.

Study Results


10 different behaviour traits identified by the researchers and the breeds that most display these traits:


1. Aggression Toward (Human) Family Members

  • Most: Turkish Van and Angora (1st); Korat (2nd); Bengal, House cats (i.e., cats that are not selectively bred), Devon Rex (3rd)

  • Least: British Shorthair

2. Aggression Toward Strangers

  • Most: Turkish Van and Angora (1st); Korat, Devon Rex, Russian Blue (2nd); Burmese and Burmilla, House cats, and Ragdolls (3rd)

  • Least: British Shorthair, Persian Cats, Cornish Rex

3. Aggression Toward Other Cats

  • Most: Turkish Van and Angora (1st); Korat (2nd); Bengal, House cats (3rd)

  • Least: Persian (1st); Devon Rex, Maine Coon, Siberian and Neva Masquerade, Ragdoll, Norwegian Forest Cat (2nd)

4. Shyness Toward Strangers

  • Most: Russian Blue (1st); House cat, Bengal (2nd)

  • Least: Burmese and Burmilla (1st); Cornish Rex (2nd); Persian, Abyssinian, Norwegian Forest Cat, Korat, Saint Birman (3rd)

5. Shyness Toward Novel Objects

  • Most: Russian Blue (1st); House cat, Turkish Van and Angora, Bengal, European Shorthair, Siberian and Neva Masquerade (2nd)

  • Least: Persian, Cornish Rex (1st)

6. Likeliness of Seeking Human Contact

  • Most: Korat, Devon Rex (1st); Oriental breeds (Balinese, Oriental Longhair, Oriental Shorthair, Seychellois Longhair, Seychellois Shorthair, and Siamese), Abyssinian, Russian Blue, Maine Coone, Cornish Rex (2nd)

  • Least: British Shorthair (1st); St Birman, European Shorthair, Persian (2nd); Siberian and Neva Masquerade, Ragdoll, Norwegian Forest Cat (3rd)

7. Activity Level

  • Most active: Cornish Rex, Korat, Bengal (1st); Abyssinian (2nd); Devon Rex, Oriental breeds, Burmese and Burmilla (3rd)

  • Least active: British Shorthair (1st); Ragdoll, Saint Birman (2nd); Siberian and Neva Masquerade, Persian, Norwegian Forest Cat, European Shorthair (3rd)

8. Wool-Sucking Propensity

  • Most likely to suck wool: House cat, Norwegian Forest Cat, Turkish Van and Angora, Maine Coon

  • Least likely to suck wool: Russian Blue (1st); Persian (2nd); Ragdoll, Cornish Rex, British Shorthair (3rd)

9. Excessive Grooming

  • Most likely to groom excessively: Burmese and Burmilla, Oriental breeds

  • Least likely to groom excessively: Persian, British Shorthair (1st); Norwegian Forest Cat, Siberian and Neva Masquerade (2nd)

10. Behavioural Problems

  • Most likely to have a behavioural problem, according to owners: Oriental breeds, Persian

  • Least likely to have a behavioural problem, according to owners: British Shorthair, European Shorthair


Want to know more?

Breed diferences of heritable behaviour traits in cats, Milla Salonen, KatariinaVapalahti, KatriinaTiira , Asko Mäki-Tanila & Hannes Lohi, www.nature.com/scientificreports


Cat Breeds and Their Personalities, According to Research, Dr Karen Wu, www.psychologytoday.com

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