Your appeal to the opposite sex may depend, at least in part, upon whether you have a pet, according to a new study published in the journal Anthrozoos. Apparently, men stand to gain more of an attractiveness boost from their pets than women— and dogs are likely to enhance your appeal more than cats.
The study, led by Dr. Peter Gray of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, expands upon a growing body of research suggesting that pets have a role to play in the dating world. For instance, a 2008 study found that when a man approached female strangers on the street in France, he got more phone numbers if he was walking a dog compared to walking alone.
The new study was designed to look at how single Americans perceive people who own different types of pets, but also to explore whether there are any gender differences in this area. The authors argued that pet ownership should have a bigger effect on women than men when it comes to how we perceive a potential romantic target.
This prediction was based in evolutionary reasoning: because reproduction is a more costly activity for women than it is for men, it is thought that women have evolved to be more selective about their partners and, in particular, to pay more attention to signs that a partner is likely to be reliable and capable of commitment. How a man “parents” his pet could be one such sign, especially in a world where we have come to see pets as extensions of the family.
To test these ideas, 1,210 single adult users of the dating website Match.com were surveyed about their views on pets and dating. More women than men completed the survey (61 percent versus 39 percent, respectively), and most participants were pet owners themselves (72 percent had dogs, while 42 percent had cats).
Consistent with the authors’ reasoning, pets had a bigger influence on how women viewed their romantic prospects than men. For example, a greater number of women than men (35 percent vs. 26 percent) said that they’ve experienced becoming more attracted to someone specifically because of their pet.
Men seem to know the power of their pets, too, given that 22 percent of men (compared to just 6 percent of women) said that they had previously used their pet to lure a date.
Owning a pet seems to offer little downside, at least when it comes to your sex appeal. Consider this: fewer than 2 percent of all participants said that an adopted pet would make a date less attractive. Most said that it would either increase their attractiveness or make no difference either way.
Disliking pets is clearly a problem, though. When asked, “Would you date someone who didn’t like pets?”, most men and women said no. Disliking pets, though, was a bigger deal breaker for women than it was for men.
One other important finding from this study is that not all pet owners are viewed equally. Specifically, “dog people” are evaluated more favorably than “cat people.” In fact, whereas 97 percent of men and women said that they could make a relationship work with a “dog person,” far fewer women (61 percent) and men (74 percent) said they could make it with a “cat person.”
These findings are limited in that only users of one online dating service were surveyed. Thus, we don’t know the extent to which the results would generalize more broadly. This study also doesn’t speak to the way that pet ownership affects perceptions of attractiveness among gay and lesbian persons, or people from other cultures where pet ownership norms may be very different.
That said, the overall body of research in this area makes it pretty clear that pets do play an important role in Americans’ love lives. Our pets and our interactions with them send out signals that can potentially make our break our romantic appeal.