A Birthday Wish for PZ

GrrlScientist Note: Tomorrow is PZ's birthday so I thought I would share this paper with him and all of you, just as a reminder of the time when he ranted about his family cat's bad behavior. I think Midnight's bad manners are the result of PZ's beard. Don't believe me? Here's proof!

Feline Reactions to Bearded Men

by Catherine Maloney, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut; Sarah J. Lichtblau, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois; Nadya Karpook, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida; Carolyn Chou, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Anthony Arena-DeRosa, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Cats were exposed to photographs of bearded men. The beards were of various sizes, shapes, and styles. The cats' responses were recorded and analyzed.

Figure 1: Cat exposed to image of a bearded man.

Findings of Prior Investigators

Boone (1958) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to clean-shaven men. O'Connor and Brynner (1990) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to shaven heads. Quant (1965) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to bangs. Seuss (1955) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to hats. Ciccone (1986) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to hairy legs. Other related studies (Smith/Brothers 1972, Conroy 1987, Schwartzenegger 1983) have since been retracted because the investigators were not able to reproduce their results.

Norquist (1988) performed a series of experiments in which cats were exposed to photographs of Robert Bork[1] (not pictured here), a man whose beard is confined largely to the underside of the jaw. After viewing the Bork photograph, 26% of the cats exhibited paralysis of the legs and body, including the neck. An additional 31% of the cats exposed to the Bork photograph showed other types of severe neurological and/or pulmocardial distress and/or exhibited extremely violent behavior. Because of this, we did not include a photograph of this type of bearded man in our study.


Five photographs were used in the study. The photographs, one reproduced here (figure 1), display a range of different types of bearded men. (As noted above, one type of bearded man was, however, excluded from use in this study.)

The test subjects were female cats, all between the ages of four and six. 214 cats participated in the study. Three cats died during the study, due to causes unrelated to the bearded men. Fifteen cats gave birth while viewing the photographs.[2]


Each cat was exposed to the photographs. One photograph was shown at a time. Each photograph was visible for a span of twenty seconds. The photographs were presented in the same order to each cat.

While each cat was viewing the photographs, it was held by a laboratory assistant. To ensure that the cats were not influenced by stroking or other unconscious cues from the assistant, the assistant was anesthetized prior to each session. The cats' reactions were assessed for changes in pulse rate, respiration, eye dilation, fur shed rate, and qualitative behavior.


The results are presented in Table 1. The quantitative results are average values calculated over the entire feline subject population. The qualitative results are broken out by percentages of the subject population.

Table 1

Pulse Rate:
Runkel: +42%
Crafts: unchanged
Despradelle: +87%
Pritchett: +2%
Wiener: unchanged

Runkel: +186%
Crafts: unchanged
Despradelle: +317%
Pritchett: + 3%
Wiener: unchanged

Eye Dilation:
Runkel: +23%
Crafts: +1%
Despradelle: +31%
Pritchett: +3%
Wiener: unchanged

Fur Shed Rate:
Runkel: +12%
Crafts: unchanged
Despradelle: +19%
Pritchett: +2%
Wiener: unchanged

Qualitative Behavior:
52% attacked photograph; hissing; spitting; generally agitated behavior.
34% fled.
14% had no visible response.
2% attacked photograph.
1% fled.
1% licked photograph.
94% had no visible response.
79% attacked photograph; hissing; spitting; generally violent, agitated behavior; chaotic tail twitch; screeching; incontinence.
19% fled.
2% had no visible response.
7% attacked photograph.
1% fled.
91% had no visible response.
(100%) No visible response.


  1. Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.
  2. Cats are indifferent to men with shorter beards.
  3. Cats are confused and/or disturbed by men with beards that are incomplete (e.g., Bork) and to a lesser degree by men whose beards have missing parts (e.g., Crafts).
    These interpretations are not categorical. They are subject to several obvious qualifications. The most notable are listed below.

Qualification A. This study excluded photographs of men with beards confined largely to the underside of the jaw (see above discussion of Robert Bork). While data are available from studies conducted by other investigators, those studies made use of a different methodology than the one we used in our study. We are therefore hesitant to interpret our findings in light of the "Bork" findings, or vice versa.

Qualification B. This study was conducted with photographs of bearded men. In a future study we intend to investigate feline responses to animate bearded men. A large number of factors might produce significantly different results in the two studies. In particular, there has been speculation that bearded men produce pheromones which could have a significant effect on cats.[3]


The author wishes to thank The MIT Museum Collection for allowing us to use photographs from its Bearded Men Collection and for generously granting permission to reproduce the photographs as part of this research report. Special thanks to Sally Beddow for assistance in selecting appropriate photographs (the Collection includes more than 71,000 photographs of bearded men) and to Warren Seamans and Kathy Thurston. Special thanks also to Lisa Yane for coordinating the scheduling, travel and housing arrangements for the feline subjects and for obtaining medical clearances in connection with anesthetizing the research assistant.


  1. Bork was a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Because of Bork's distinctive beard, his photograph has been used in reaction studies with dogs, rats, and planaria (flatworms) and in bombardment studies with pigeons.
  2. We excluded all data pertaining to the fifteen cats who gave birth while viewing the photographs. The reproducibility of the GAVE BIRTH/DID NOT GIVE BIRTH data will be addressed in a separate, future study.
  3. Photographs do not, of course, produce pheromones, but they do emanate airborne scents derived from chemicals used in the photo developing process. Our study with animate bearded men will employ a strategy to eliminate this imbalance: before being shown to the cats, each bearded man will be immersed in a photochemical bath.


  • Boone, Patrick, "Cat Reactions to Clean-Shaven Men," in Western Musicology Journal, March/April 1958, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 4-21.
  • Ciccone, Madonna Louise, "Feline Responses to Hairy Legs," in Midwestern Sociological Review, January 1986, vol. 32, no. 1, pp 51-79.
  • Conroy, Gary, "Feline Responses to Ponytails," in Urban Sociology Review, November 25, 1987, vol. 21, no. 36, pp. 302-321.
  • Norquist, Winthrop Grover, "Feline Reactions to Supreme Court Nominees," in Journal of Feline Forensic Studies, vol. 12, no. 8, August 1988, pp. 437-450.
  • O'Connor, Sinead, and Brynner, Y., "Feline Responses to Shaven Heads," in Journal of Head Trauma, May 30, 1990, vol. 42, no. 17, pp. 309-324.
  • Quant, Mary, "Cat Responses to Bangs," in Tonsological Proceedings, May 1965, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 251-262.
  • Schwartzenegger, A., "A Study of How Cats Respond to Body Hair," in Mind/Body Review, December 1983, vol. 3, no. 12, pp. 25-108.
  • Seuss, Doctor, "Feline Responses to Hats," in Veterinary Developmental Studies, July 1955, vol. 32, no. 7, pp. 54-62.
  • Smith, J., and Brothers, Joyce, "Feline Responses to Healthy Adults," in Health Advice, September 1972, vol. 51, no. 9, pp. 32-33.

Happy Birdthday, PZ Myers!



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At least the money spent paying the respective wages of these illustrious high brow scientists wasn't wasted on something important.

Sorry for the sarchasm - having a bad day actually working for a living doing something that makes a difference caused the comment.

This is great!

By Maltodextrin (not verified) on 08 Mar 2007 #permalink

that's hilarious!

More details on the study here.



With what, vodka?

Something tells me this whole thing is a big crock of doodoo.

Reading some of the comments, I get the impression that some people aren't getting this. Look at the first 2 items in the bibliography- Pat Boone and Madonna.

tell me this at very least won an IgNobel...

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 09 Mar 2007 #permalink

I think this appeared in AIR, in the Bearded Man Special. I don't think they give Igs to themselves.

(who's proud to have a letter about quarrels and nuts in the latest issue of AIR. Oh, and I'm also bearded, and am presently being ignored by the cat)

Paraphrasing Lincoln: Cats are always fighting, but you will notice there is never a shortage of kittens.

By biosparite (not verified) on 09 Mar 2007 #permalink

Long ago I worked with a guy who often brought his dog (a chocolate lab) to the office. She was very friendly and loved people - except for the boyfriend of another coworker. Whenever he visited, the dog would get skittish and hide.

The boyfriend, a nice enough guy, couldn't understand why she was afraid of him. Finally I pointed out that he was bald and had a beard - as far as the dog was concerned, his head was on upside down, and it freaked her out.

This made my day. It's hilarious!

Cats will smell anything you offer them. Try it!

I showed my cat the article causing her to sit on the keyboard and delete valuable work. Thanks a lot.