What they did
Using an anonymous online survey with 189 participants, researchers examined how people assigned specific personality traits (active, aloof, bold, calm, friendly, intolerant, shy, stubborn, tolerant, or trainable) to cats based on coat color (orange, tricolored, white, black, or bi-colored). Participants were also asked whether they considered personality and color to be important qualities when selecting a cat for adoption.
What they found
Most of the respondents were Caucasian women between the ages of 18 and 25. Participants were more likely to describe orange cats as being friendly, while tricolored cats were considered more aloof. Stubbornness, on the other hand, was a trait attributed equally to all cats regardless of coat color.
Here's an overview of the terms survey participants were more or less likely to assign to each coat color:
• Black cats: No term was assigned more or less often
• Bi-colored cats: Friendly; not aloof
• Orange cats: Friendly; not aloof or shy
• Tricolored cats: Aloof and intolerant; not friendly or tolerant
• White cats: Aloof, calm, and shy; not active, bold, or friendly
When asked whether they felt coat color was important when adopting a cat, 50% of respondents said no, and 94.7% responded that personality was very important. Survey results would indicate, however, that respondents believe the two qualities are linked, suggesting that "to a potential adopter, looks do matter." The authors hypothesize that having lived with a cat at some point in their lives as well as observing the depiction of cats in popular media may reinforce or introduce ideas about cat personality.
The perception that cat personality is linked to coat color may ultimately affect how shelters promote different colored cats and emphasize their positive personality traits. Training on how to evaluate the personalities of cats may also increase successful matching with potential adopters.
The authors also conclude it will be important to investigate whether these perceptions about temperament have any basis in genetic and behavioral differences among cats of different coat colors.
Delgado MM, Munera JD, Reevy GM. Human perceptions of coat color as an indicator of domestic cat personality. Anthrozoos 2012;25(4):427-440.