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The Truth About Black Cat Bias

Recent research helps explain why some people have a bias against black cats.

Key points

  • Black cats are viewed negatively across cultures.
  • They are viewed as more evil and sinister than non-black cats.
  • Our findings show that black cat bias is rooted in superstition but also in the difficulty people have reading facial cues of black cats.

The black cat is a common symbol of Halloween, often presented as the companion of witches. Cast in this negative light, it may not be surprising that people tend to have a bias against black cats. In a recent study, we examined why people hold this negative bias against black felines. I’ll share those results here.

Negative attitudes about black cats are common across many cultures. Black cats are often portrayed as representations of evil, grief, sinister motives, and death. More broadly, the color black figures largely in superstitious belief systems. White or bright things are often portrayed as good and black things are portrayed as bad.

Studies show that there are also negative cross-cultural attitudes about dark skin tone, with dark-skinned people often being viewed with more negativity and wariness than their lighter-skinned counterparts.

There is considerable evidence that black dogs and cats are viewed as less desirable and are adopted less readily than brighter-colored animals. This is despite the fact that coat color is unrelated to the behavior of those animals.

Black Cat Bias Study

Haylie Jones and I were curious about why people seem to have a black cat bias. Based on previous work, we identified several possibilities.

One was that people who have been indoctrinated into religious belief systems may associate the color black with evil, causing them to view all things black, including cats, as sinister. Another possibility is that black cats have been associated with superstitious beliefs of bad luck, casting them in a negative light.

A third possibility is racially biased and prejudicial attitudes toward dark-skinned people may have been generalized to black cats as well. A fourth possibility is that the dark facial fur of black cats may impair human perceptions of the cats’ facial cues, causing people to feel more emotionally detached from the black cats.

Haylie and I conducted a study in which we showed more than 100 people pictures of black and non-black cats. We had them rate how friendly, aggressive, and adoptable each cat seemed. We also measured several aspects of the participants, including their religiosity, racial bias, and how superstitious they were.

Findings About Black Cat Bias

Our findings were pretty clear. First, we found that people viewed black cats as significantly less friendly and more aggressive than cats of other colors. Religiosity and racial bias were not associated with black cat bias. However, superstition was. The more superstitious people were, the more they found the black cats to be aggressive, unfriendly, and unadoptable. Furthermore, people who said that they had trouble reading the facial expressions of black cats also had the same black cat bias.

So, we can conclude that some people do indeed have a bias against black cats. That bias seems to be due to superstitious beliefs and difficulty in reading the facial cues of black cats.

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