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What the cat who takes selfies says about your personality

Concordia marketing expert Caroline Roux unpacks why we — and the internet — just can't stop looking
March 4, 2016
By Caroline Roux

All photos courtesy of Manny The Selfie Cat All photos courtesy of Manny The Selfie Cat

Caroline Roux, a professor with Concordia's John Molson School of Business, researches how thinking about or experiencing resource scarcity — feeling like “I don't have enough”  — impacts consumer decision making.

If you have been spending any amount of time on the internet, you have probably encountered a fair amount of cat-related pictures and videos.

Many people like to believe that the internet is made of cats. Cats are so prevalent in the digital world that many of them have reached celebrity status.

A recent addition to this feline firmament is Manny, a photogenic cat who takes selfies, often in the company of his canine friends.

Manny happens to be fascinated by his human’s GoPro camera, and attempts to reach out and touch it when he sees it, thus offering endless photo opportunities.

Aside from the inherent entertainment factor associated with seeing a cat (seemingly) take selfies, it can be dumbfounding for some people how a cat like Manny could rocket to internet stardom.

However, a better understanding of the "cat lover personality" — and of the nature of cuteness — may help us comprehend how and why such a phenomenon is so prevalent in the online world. 


Cat people tend to possess a type of personality that is conducive to spending a lot of time behind a computer or looking at a smartphone.

Specifically, research found that people who identify themselves as cat people share similar personality traits: they tend to be more neurotic (more anxious and emotionally unstable), more introverted, less agreeable (less altruistic and trusting of others), less conscientious (less organized and efficient), and to demonstrate more openness (more imaginative and intellectually curious) than dog people.

In other words, cat people tend to be more stressed out, prefer solitary pursuits, have a harder time getting along with people, demonstrate poorer self-discipline, and be more inventive. No wonder they can spend hours watching an endless video of an animated cartoon cat or collecting virtual cats!


Part of the popularity of cat pictures and videos can be linked to findings suggesting that virtual pets can have a similar impact on people as real ones.

Research on pet therapy has shown that time spent with real pets can improve mood and well-being for a wide range of people, and has proposed that many individuals react to virtual animals as if they were real ones.

Following Manny’s selfie adventures can thus be a good way for anxious cat people to improve their mood. But Manny has one more thing that plays in his favour: his cuteness.

Cuteness, or the characteristics that make an individual, entity or object endearing and adorable, has been defined by some researchers as a humanizing emotion.

Cuteness encourages people to mentalize and anthropomorphize entities, such as animals, because it prompts a motivation to socially connect with the “totes adorbs” entity.

Mentalizing refers to our tendency to perceive an entity to possess the (often imagined) capacity to generate humanlike thoughts and engage in intentional behaviors. 


Believing that our computer hates us when it happens to be unusually sluggish before an important deadline is the result of mentalizing.

Similarly, this is why we like to believe that Manny enjoys taking selfies because of his narcissistic tendencies, instead of acknowledging that his behaviour is simply the result of a conditioned response.

Mentalizing also induces people to attribute human-like characteristics to non-human entities, or to anthropomorphize them, which helps forge a sense of social connection.

Believing that a car is smiling or frowning at us, due to the way its front grille and headlights are designed — or that a cat can have the (mostly) human selfie habit — are results of anthropomorphism.

Loneliness and feelings of disconnection, which are part of cat lovers’ personality type, tend to increase the likelihood of forging such imagined, longed-for relationships.

Inventive cat people thus manage to get a temporary sense of bonding through Manny’s cute selfies. Who wouldn’t want to socially connect with such a cool cat?

A survey conducted in 2014 found that British people shared more than twice as many cat pictures and videos (3.8 million) than selfies (1.4 million) every single day.

It was only a matter of time until cats finally understood that they could gain even more power over the online world by combining these two popular image-sharing trends...

I, for one, bow down to our feline overlords.

See more selfies from Manny on this Instagram feed. Find out more about Caroline Roux's marketing research at Concordia.


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