IX. Furry Psychology
There are a number of different models of personality in the psychological literature, but one of the most frequently cited is the “Big 5” model of personality, which proposes that there are five major dimensions along which people’s personality differ: (a) Extraversion: the tendency to be energized by and seek out the presence of others, (b) Agreeableness: being of friendly, cooperative, and social nature, (c) Conscientiousness: the extent to which one is organized and mindful of goals, (d) Emotional Stability (inversely known as neuroticism): confidence and resilience, lack of susceptibility to negative emotions, (e) Openness to Experience: A curiosity or interest in what is unconventional, or a desire to see, taste, hear and immerse oneself in a variety of sensations and situations.
We assessed each of these items in furries and in members of different fandoms (e.g., con-going and online anime fans, fantasy sport fans) using a small, 10-item personality scale.🐾 For each item, we tested whether identifying as a furry predicted higher scores on that trait,]tagcite tags=s11] and whether furries, as a group scored higher than members of other fandoms on that trait.🐾 Results are displayed below, with different colored bars representing significant differences between the groups. In general, however, furries’ scores were comparable to those of the other fan groups.
The more strongly a person identified as a furry, the higher their extraversion score was.
The more strongly a person identified as a furry, the less agreeable they tended to be.
How strongly a person identified with being a furry was unrelated to their levels of conscientiousness.
How strongly a person identified with being a furry was unrelated to their levels of emotional stability.
Openness to Experience
The more strongly a person identified as a furry, the more open to experiences they tended to be.
Of course, each of these five personality factors consists of many different sub-factors, and they do not capture the entirety of individual differences between people.🐾 In future studies, we would like to look at sub-factors within these five facets of personality—as well as others—to see if we can more specifically describe the personality of members of the furry community and the ways in which they are similar to, and differ from, members of other fandoms.
One of the IARP researchers, Dr. Plante, has been studying fantasy and its potential function in the everyday lives of people. Given that furries seem to lead very active fantasy lives (judging by the content of the fandom—walking, talking animals), he has assessed fantasy engagement in furries as compared to non-furries across a number of studies. These measures assess different aspects of “fantasy” as a concept, ranging from belief in supernatural/magical thinking (e.g., belief in premonitions about future events), ability to perspective-take and empathize (e.g., feel the pain of a character in a story), childhood (and current) experiences of fantasy behaviour and thoughts (e.g., having an imaginary friend as a child, having vivid daydreams), and engagement of fantasy within the context of the furry fandom (e.g., spending time thinking about furries, treating furry as a hobby/recreational activity). While a full recounting of these results has been generated elsewhere, they are too unwieldy to present in their entirety here. Instead, interesting highlights from this research are presented below.
— In general, the more strongly a person identifies as furry, the more they engage in fantasy, including more magical thinking, more childhood (and current) fantasy experiences, and greater engagement in fantasy activities.🐾🐾
— Although furries engage in more fantasy than non-furries in general, the difference is limited to healthy fantasy engagement (e.g., for recreation, creative, or social purposes, to a non-pathological extent). In contrast, furries do not differ from non-furries in the extent to which they engage in more pathological (e.g., escapist, obsessive, delusional) forms of fantasy.
— Furries were equally as good as non-furries at distinguishing fantasy from reality, suggesting that while furries engage in more fantasy than non-furries, it is not due to an inability to distinguish between the two.🐾
— Furries have more vivid mental images and are more likely to experience hallucinations than non-furries.🐾
— As the figure below, which assesses the frequency with which participants engage in fantasy activities (1 = almost never to 7 = several times a day), reveals that furries engage in a level of fantasy that’s comparable to members of other fan groups (e.g., convention-going anime fans).
Taken together, these data suggest that furries may have particularly active, vivid, and magical mental worlds, and that such factors may contribute to (or be caused by) the extent to which a person identifies themselves as furry. Many of these items are often thought of with regard to psychological dysfunction (e.g., belief in magic or overly vivid mental imagery may be associated with delusion). That said, the lack of relationship between being a furry and psychological dysfunction🐾 suggests otherwise, however: despite having particularly active, somewhat aberrant, vivid, and fantastical mental worlds, furries nonetheless seem as well-adjusted as others in the general population. To put it another way: while furries may be distinct for having vivid fantasy lives, they are not dysfunctional for it.
In several of our studies, we have been interested in assessing the extent to which furries and non-furries (e.g., others at a furry convention) felt a sense of connection or inclusion within the furry and non-furry community. We assess these feelings using a scale called the Inclusion of Other in Self Scale🐾 In this scale, participants indicated the amount of “overlap” that existed between themselves and another group (either the furry fandom or non-furries). Higher numbers indicate greater “overlap” between the self and the group.
The data below🐾 show firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, that non-furries consider themselves to be more connected to non-furries than to furries. Furries, on the other hand, felt pretty much equally connected to both furries and non-furries, as a group. Unexpectedly, therians, most of all, felt the most overlap between themselves and the furry fandom, a finding consistent with other data showing that therians have been in the furry fandom for longer on average🐾 and incorporate elements of the fandom’s content (e.g., animals) into their sense of self.🐾
Social psychologists who study fan groups make a distinction between two related concepts: fandom and fanship. Fandom refers to a person’s identification with others who share a similar interest to them. In contrast, fanship refers to the extent to which a person identifies with an interest in something. To illustrate, we can imagine people who are high or low on these two traits. A sport fan high on fanship but low on fandom may enjoy watching the games, but find little interest in doing so with others. In contrast, a sport fan low on fanship but high on fandom may watch the games with their friends, not for love of the game itself but for love of being a part of the fan community. Far from being a trivial distinction, psychologists have suggested that a person’s fandom and fanship differently predict their attitudes, feelings, and behaviours in different contexts.
The blue bars, which represent fanship, show that most furries strongly identify with their fan interest (with an interest in furry content). In contrast, while many furries identified strongly with other furries in the fandom (fanship), there was not as significant a peak at the right side of the figure, suggesting that while many furries feel a strong sense of fandom, not all furries feel such strong identification with the fandom as a whole.
An interesting aspect of the furry fandom is its independence as a fandom despite its overlap with similar or related fandoms or groups (e.g., Disney, anime, cartoons, bronies, science fiction, Fantasy, therians, otherkin, gamers, ravers, just to name a few.)🐾 This led us to question the extent to which the furry fandom is perceived by furries as being unique and distinct from a similar fandom: anime.We asked furries to indicate, on a 7-point scale, whether or not they agreed that furries were distinct and unique compared to anime fans.🐾 The figure above shows that furries strongly felt that the furry fandom was distinct from the anime fandom. In further analyses, furries and non-furries were asked to judge the perceived distinctiveness of the furry fandom from the anime fandom. Furries, who have a vested interest in protecting their unique and distinct identity, were significantly more likely (M = 5.19) than non-furries (M = 4.75) to say that the furry fandom was distinct from anime. In fact, the more strongly a participant identified as furry, the more strongly they felt that the furry fandom was distinct from the anime fandom.🐾
Another potential way to study distinctiveness of the furry fandom is to look at something called “essentialism”—the belief that a group is based on some naturally-occurring, physical, tangible feature (examples of groups commonly perceived to be “essential” include gender and ethnicity, while examples of “non-essential” groups may be things like “a band class” or “the group of people standing in line at the bank”—groups with nothing inherently “groupy” about them except for superficial or transitory features). Included in the survey was an “essentialism” scale, measuring furries’ beliefs that furries, as a group, were based on essentialist traits (e.g., hard-wired, biologically based, or physically “real”). Consistent with the above findings, the more strongly a person identified as a furry, the more they considered furry, to be a more highly essential group which, in turn, was associated with how distinct it was seen as being from anime.🐾
In sum, it seems to be that the more closely attached one is to the furry fandom, the more distinct it is seen as being from other fandoms. This makes sense, from a psychological point of view: the groups we belong to serve a number of functions for us, one of which is to provide a source of identity for us. We like to have a distinct and positive sense of identity. The more our group is seen to blur with other groups (especially if those groups disagree with our perception of ourselves or our attitudes), and the less clear our groups’ boundaries seem, the more threatening this is to our sense of identity—who we are as defined by what groups we belong to.
Because furries spend a lot of time looking at fursuits and images of anthropomorphic characters in the fandom, we decided to test whether this experience provided them with the ability to better recognize and distinguish between these faces. Furries and non-furries (undergraduate psychology students) completed a computerized study where they saw pictures of 100 different faces—some human, some featuring furry characters, and some featuring fursuits. Then, later in the study, 50 of the faces were shown again, along with 50 new faces. For each face, participants were asked to indicate whether they had seen the face earlier in the study or not.🐾
The results revealed that furries and non-furries did not significantly differ with regard to recognizing human faces. When it came to furry faces and fursuit faces, however, furries outperformed non-furries. Interestingly, it appears that non-furries did about as well on furry/fursuit faces as they did on human faces. This suggests that the difference between furries and non-furries wasn’t driven by the fact that non-furries were bad at recognizing furry faces and fursuit faces (they still did well above chance, which would be 50%). Instead, the data suggest that furries are particularly good (and possibly motivated) to recognize furry faces and fursuits.
We tested whether this difference in performance was due to the fact that furries simply see more furry content and fursuits. Analysis showed that furries’ tendency to see more fursuits and more furry art accounted for at least some of the difference in performance between furries and non-furries on furry face and fursuit face recognition. Future research will attempt to not only replicate these findings, but test some of the other possible mechanisms underlying these findings, and the implications of these findings in other domains (e.g., regarding attitudes toward animals, recognition of animals, and humanization of non-human animals).