III. Fursonas

3.1 Species Popularity

Creating a fursona is one of the most universal behaviours in the furry fandom.🐾 Defined as anthropomorphic animal representations of the self, furries interact with other members of the fandom through the use of these avatars, both in-person (e.g., badges at conventions) and online (e.g., profile pictures, forum handle). Fursonas can differ dramatically in the amount of detail they entail, and can include distinct personalities, histories, relationships, and attitudes. At very minimum, however, most fursonas include a name and a species.

Furries and non-furries alike frequently ask about fursona species, usually asking about the most unusual species or wondering what the most frequently chosen species are. In an online study, we collected information on more than 6,000 distinct fursonas, which were categorized into 852 unique species (which were subsequently organized for ease of presentation.)🐾 Many of the species listed were unique and, as such, cannot be presented in order to preserve the anonymity of our participants. In the figures that follow, such species are aggregated in the “other” categories for the most relevant group.

First, we present the data for all species. We then proceed with a group-by-group breakdown of popular categories. Within each category, “unspecified” means that the species was simply identified as the category (e.g., within the “wolf” category analysis, “unspecified” refers to people who just put “wolf” rather than any specific breed/type of wolf).

Please note that this category breakdown is not meant to reflect biological taxonomy or cladistics, but is instead meant to be a close approximation of how groups of similar species “clustered” together (e.g., the authors know that a wolverine and a badger are not “rodents,” but included them in with “small furry mammals” for ease of analysis).

3-1 species popularity all

3-1 hybrid species popularity

* Note that the “other” category here represents 52.1% of all the listed hybrids (and represent unique or exceptionally rare identified hybrids).

 

Most Popular Wolf Fursonas

3-1 wolf species popularity

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 74.1% of all wolves.

Most Popular Fox Fursonas

3-1 fox species popularity

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 68.3% of all foxes.

Most Popular Dog Fursonas

3-1 dog species popularity

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 37.5% of all dogs.

Most Popular Big Cat Species

3-1 big cat species popularity

* Note: The authors recognize that many of these are not “big” cats so much as they are “wild” cats.

Most Popular Dragon Fursonas

3-1 dragon species popularity

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 84.7% of all dragons.

Most Popular Mythical Fursonas

3-1 mythical species popularity

Most Popular Pokémon Fursonas

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 63% of all Pokémon.

Most Popular Cat Fursonas

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 85.3% of all cats.

* Note that the “non-specified” category here represents 85.3% of all cats.

Most Popular Rodent Fursonas

3-1 rodent species popularity

Most Popular Reptile Fursonas

3-1 reptile species popularity

Most Popular Avian Fursonas

3-1 avian species popularity

Most Popular Bear Fursonas

3-1 bear species popularity

Most Popular Aquatic Fursonas

3-1 aquatic species popularity

Most Popular Marsupial Fursonas

3-1 marsupial species popularity

Most Popular Dinosaur Fursonas

3-1 dinosaur species popularity

3-1 misc species popularity

In addition to assessing the most popular species furries choose for their fursonas, recent studies have also begun to look at other aspects of fursona choice. For example, one study recently looked at whether furries tend to choose fursonas that are more feral (look like an animal) or anthropomorphic (resemble a human).🐾 This question was asked as a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (Completely feral) to 7 (Completely Anthro). The results, posted below, reveal that the vast majority of furries create fursonas that are predominantly anthropomorphic.

3-12 fursona as ideal self
In the same study, we also tested whether there were predictable differences in the type of furry who chooses a more anthropomorphic/feral fursona. Results revealed very few differences: therians were more likely to adopt feral fursonas (and, in fact, many would not even consider it to be a “fursona” so much as the animal aspect of themselves), as were women. Factors that were unrelated to fursona anthropomorphism included age, extent to which one identifies as a furry, sexual orientation, years as a furry, owning a fursuit, and mental health.

3.2 Predator/Prey Distinction

Given that fursonas are generally thought of as “idealized” versions of the self,🐾 and given that some traits associated with predators (e.g., assertiveness, strength) may be desirable, we were interested in testing whether furries were more likely to choose predator species over prey species for their fursonas. Rather than classifying the species ourselves, we asked participants to indicate whether they considered their fursona species to be a predator, prey, both, or neither. The results are presented in the table below.🐾

Classification of Fursona Species as Predator or Prey

Sample Predator Prey Both Neither
Furries 39.5% 8.0% 21.9% 27.2%
Otherkin 50.0% 6.1% 24.4% 19.5%
Therians 53.4% 4.3% 27.3% 14.9%
Predator species were nearly five times more common than prey species were among fursonas. The distinction was even more pronounced among therians and otherkin (see Section 7 for more information about therians). We then tested whether people with predator or prey species differed in personality: furries whose fursonas were predator species were significantly more extroverted than those whose fursonas were prey species. This suggests that there may be an association between fursona species and personality.🐾
In another study,🐾 we tested a hypothesis submitted to us by a furry: because predator species attack prey species in real life, and because there are some personality differences between people with prey and predator fursonas, are furries with predator fursonas more likely to bully or attack furries with prey species? To test this, we asked participants in one study whether they considered their fursona to be a predator, prey, both, or neither. We then compared the responses of the “predator only” participants to the “prey” only participants, specifically with regard to questions that had to do with being bullied and bullying others in the fandom. Analyses found that there are no significant differences in the extent to which predator and prey furries are harassed or harass others because of their fursona species.🐾 They did not differ in their expectations for how predators or prey are expected to act, nor was either group more likely to believe that people should be treated differently because of their fursona species. The only notable difference in attitudes between predator and prey species was that predators were more likely than prey to say that if a person doesn’t like how they’re treated because of their species, they should choose a different species. It should be noted, however, that even though predators agreed with this statement more than prey, both groups still overwhelmingly disagreed with this statement.

3.3 Reason for Species Choice

In addition to knowing what a person’s fursona species is, people (furry and non-furry) often want to know why a person’s fursona is the species that it is. These stories are often unique, and it would be next to impossible to fully capture the numerous variables that contribute to the species that a furry’s fursona manifests as. To avoid this intractable problem, we instead asked furries to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed that each of a number of possible factors influenced their fursona’s species. While this is by no means a complete list of factors, it does at least capture the variety of factors while also illuminating some of the more popular ones.🐾

Factor: Innate Connection

It appears that there is quite a bit of variance in responses to this item. One in three furries disagrees that they have an innate connection to their species, but more than 40% of the fandom agrees with the statement at least “somewhat.”

3-3 species choice innate connection
Factor: Trapped in Human Body

Half the furries in our sample completely disagreed with the notion of feeling like their species trapped in a human body, with only about one in three agreeing with it at least “somewhat.” There seems to be a strong distinction between furries who disagree with this item and those who do not, and this item, along with the preceding one, are likely tapping into elements of therianthropy.🐾

3-3 species choice trapped in body
Factor: Shared Characteristics

In general, furries tend to agree with this item—more than 75% state that it is at least somewhat true that they share characteristics with their fursona species. Conversely, about 15-20% of furries say that shared characteristics have little to nothing to do with their fursona species.

3-3 species choice shared characteristics
Factor: Past Life
Factor: Spirit Guide

The vast majority of furries disagreed with these items. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that these items tap into a spiritual connection with animals, while furries, as a group, are not particularly religious or spiritual.🐾 As with some of the items above assessing identification with one’s animal species, these items may be tapping into therianthropy.🐾

3-3 species choice past life3-3 species choice spirit guide
Factor: Physical Resemblance

In general, furries disagreed that their fursona species was the result of a physical resemblance, with one-third to one-half of furries disagreeing vehemently with this item. One in five furries did cite physical resemblance as an important part of the relationship they had with their species.

3-3 species choice physical resemblance

Often, furries and non-furries alike will ask whether certain personalities or traits are associated with particular fursona species (e.g., “are people who choose dog fursonas more loyal?”) To discover the stereotypes people associate with different fursonas, we asked participants in one study to describe their fursona species and then describe 3 traits associated with their species.🐾 The study revealed that certain popular fursona species had commonly associated stereotypes:

 - Dogs (42%) and Wolves (29%) were most commonly associated with “loyalty”
- Foxes (41%) were most commonly associated with being “sly”
- Dragons (19%), tigers (18%) and bears (43%) were commonly associated with “strength”
- Otters (36%) were commonly associated with “fun”
- Rabbits (21%) were commonly associated with being shy
- Cats (14%) were commonly associated with being lazy
- The species most commonly associated with sex / promiscuity was rabbits (10%)

While these results describe the stereotypes that people associate with different fursona species, they don’t actually provide any evidence as to whether furries who pick these fursona species actually embody these traits. In a follow-up study,🐾 we tested exactly that: are people who choose these common fursona species more or less likely to actually identify with these terms? The questions were asked covertly (e.g., buried amidst many other personality traits, not asked about with regard to one’s fursona species).

The data suggests that several of the stereotypes may, in fact, be true: compared to furries with other fursonas, those whose fursona included a wolf or a dog were significantly more likely to use the word “loyal” to describe themselves. Similarly, those with a fox fursona were also far more likely to use the word “sly” to describe themselves than those whose fursonas were not foxes. Furries with bear fursonas were more likely than other furries to call themselves “strong”, as were wolves—tigers and dragons were not significantly more likely to do so, despite the stereotype. Furthermore, foxes and cats actually scored significantly lower on strength than other furries.

There was little evidence to support any of the other stereotypes. In fact, the data suggested several unexpected findings: wolves and dogs were more promiscuous than foxes or any other species, and foxes (but not rabbits) scored significantly higher on shyness. In addition, there exists a common stereotype in the fandom about foxes being particularly promiscuous and more likely to be homosexual than other fursona species. In fact, there is no evidence to support this, although data do suggest that furries with dog fursonas are more likely to be non-heterosexual and are more likely to be in a relationship than furries with other fursonas.

Finally, data suggest that while most fursona species are equally preferred by men and women in the fandom, there are a few species that show sex differences: foxes and bears are significantly more likely to be chosen by males, while cats are significantly more likely to be chosen by females.

3.4 Fursona Origin

Relatively little is known about the process of fursona creation. For example, while many furries describe their choice of fursona species as inspired by a particular show, character, story, legend, or exemplar of a species (e.g., a famous animal, a pet, etc.), many furries feel that their fursona came from within them, in an act of creation (as opposed to “merely copying” a character from a show). To study fursona creation, we asked furries to indicate, on a 7-point scale, the extent to which they felt that their fursonas came from entirely within themselves, from entirely outside themselves, or somewhere in the middle.🐾

3-4 external and internal species origin

It’s apparent from the figure above that, for most furries, their fursonas come primarily from within themselves (M = 2.53). That said, however, only about 25% of furries said that their fursona came entirely from within, suggesting that there was at least some outside influence on their fursona. It should also be noted that very few furries said that their fursonas came entirely from outside of them. Contrary to misconceptions that furries simply dress up as characters from shows or stories, it seems that most fursonas involve an element of personal creation. One could also interpret a fursona species that came entirely from outside oneself as meaning that the person felt they had no choice in how their fursona manifested itself (e.g., a spirit guide)

A subsequent analysis revealed that people whose fursona came from an outside source experienced significantly lower well-being, lower self-esteem, and less of a sense of having a coherent and developed sense of identity. This association does not mean, of course, that the former caused the latter, and further research is needed to explain this relationship.

3.5 Species Perception

We asked furries to rate their fursona species, as well as several other species, on a number of traits, expecting to find that different species scored higher on different traits🐾 However, something else happened, rather unexpectedly: regardless of the participant’s actual species (dragon, fox, wolf, etc.), they were more likely to see their particular species as more masculine and feminine than the other species, more sociable, more fun, and admirable than others. They were also more likely to see their species as less aggressive than others, even if it was a member of a species commonly assumed to be aggressive (e.g., a lion or a dragon). In short: furries are biased to see “their” species as better than others do, regardless of what the stereotypes of that species are. It may be the case that by identifying with a species held in a positive light may serve a useful self-esteem bolstering function for furries (a topic addressed in greater detail in section 3.12).

3.6 Fursona Gender

In studies asking about fursonas and gender, we’ve often asked furries to not only identify their own gender, but to also indicate, on a 1-5 scale, the extent to which their fursona’s gender identity is similar to (“my fursona is only ever the same gender as I am”) or differs from (“my fursona is always a different gender than I am”) their own.🐾

3-6 fursona gender relative to own

The data suggest that about 62% of furries report that their fursona’s gender is the same as their own. This also means that approximately 38% of furries are, at very least, open to the idea of having a different-gender fursona; in fact, fully 5% of furries have a fursona whose gender is completely different from their own. It remains to be seen whether, for these people, their fursona is a form of self-expression of a different-gender part of themselves (a way to “play out” another facet of their identity), or is simply a way for them to experiment with an identity different from their own—a form of role-playing.

3-6 fursona gender relative to own by sex

In another study, we looked at whether there were gender difference in the extent to which furries’ fursonas differed from their own gender (see figure above.)🐾 Results indicated that furries whose gender identity was more female were significantly more likely to have a fursona whose gender differed from their own.

3.7 Fursona Orientation

Analogous to the way we looked for self-fursona gender differences in section 3.6, we also asked furries to provide not only their own sexual orientation,🐾 but to indicate the sexual orientation of their fursona as well. For ease of analysis, participants whose data fell onto a traditional Kinsey-style 7-point scale (heterosexual—homosexual) were used. The data are presented in the figure below, with non-fursona data (orange bars) plotted alongside the same furries’ fursona data (blue bars).🐾

3-7 fursona and nonfursona sexual orientation

Looking at the left-most pair of bars (“exclusively heterosexual”), it is apparent that fursonas are significantly less heterosexual than their creators. There is an approximately equal magnitude increase in “equal parts homosexual and heterosexual” responses for fursonas. This suggests that for some furries (particularly heterosexual furries) their fursona is bisexual, which may reflect their own bisexuality. Given that homosexuality is still looked down upon in many regions, it may be the case for at least some of these people, being able to say “I am not gay, my fursona is” is a way to express this aspects of their identity while simultaneously distancing themselves from the stigma it carries. It may also be a way for furries to “test the waters,” experimenting with homosexual feelings or gauging the reception if they were to come out as bisexual themselves. It’s possible that either of these explanations, or neither, may account for these observations, and it remains for future research to test these hypotheses.

3.8 Number of Fursonas

One popular misconception about furries is the belief that furries choose their fursonas in a shallow manner. As such, the IARP have been asked whether furries change their fursonas frequently (e.g., waking up and deciding that they feel like a cat today). These misconceptions, however, run counter to our findings that, for many furries, their fursonas are personally significant and meaningful🐾 and, as such, are not likely to change on a whim.

To test this hypothesis, we’ve asked furries on several occasions to indicate how many fursonas they have had in their entire life, and how many fursonas they currently have. The results are displayed in the figure below.🐾

3-8 number of current and lifetime fursonas

While one fursona is the most common number of fursonas to have had over the course of one’s life, about a quarter to one half of all furries (depending on the sample 🐾🐾) say they have had more than one fursona. This means that a significant portion of the furry fandom has changed their fursona at some point in their life. Future research will hopefully shed some light on the reasons that furries change their fursonas, including testing the possibility that significant life changes or changes in self-image may lead furries to change their fursonas over time.

About a quarter of furries say that they currently have more than one fursona, often alternating between them. It would be interesting, in future research, to determine the function of having multiple fursonas (e.g., for self-expression, in different contexts, to represent different genders /orientations).

3.9 Fursonas and Social Judgment

Given that many conventions include meet-ups based on fursona species (e.g., wolf or feline meet-ups), and given that we, as researchers, had overheard comments about interacting with members of different fursona species (e.g., “ugh, he’s a fox, you know what they’re like”), we wanted to test the hypotheses about fursonas and social judgment.

First, we tested whether furries believed that another furry’s fursona species would affect their decision to interact with that person.🐾 This involved asking furries, on a 10-point scale, how much they agreed or disagreed that a person’s fursona species could influence how well they expected to get along with that person (1 = disagree to 10 = agree). The results suggest that furries largely disagreed with this statement (M = 3.15). Therians, despite identifying more deeply with their species, might be expected to consider another person’s species in this context, but they did not differ significantly from furries.

3-9 fursonas and social judgment

These results were replicated and extended in a second study (blue bars in the figure above.🐾 In addition to asking furries whether another’s fursona would influence how well they expected to get along with a person, we also asked furries whether they believed that a fursona species could tell you anything about a person. Indeed, many furries believed that a person’s fursona species could tell you a lot about them, and, in fact, the more a furry thought their own fursona species was informative, the more they believed that others’ fursonas species were similarly informative. Finally, we found that furries who more strongly believed that their fursona species was informative were more likely to say that someone else’s fursona would influence how well they expected to get along with them.

In another study,🐾 we asked more specific questions about the extent to which fursona species would influence furries’ beliefs about, and behavior toward, other furries. Agreement was rated on a 1-7 scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 7 = Strongly Agree). Average scores revealed that:

  • Furries largely disagree that furries with certain fursonas (e.g, prey) are expected to act a certain way in-person or online (Average score = 2.60)
  • Furries also disagree, however, with the statement that furries are never picked on because of their fursona species (Average score = 2.98), suggesting that while furries acknowledge that this happens in the fandom, they large disagree with it occurring.
  • Furries somewhat disagree with the idea that individual furries chose the fursona species they do because they want to be treated a certain way (Average score = 3.63).
  • Furries don’t seem to make much about how popular or unpopular a particular fursona species is; they disagree both with the idea that choosing an unpopular species means that you’re trying to make a statement about yourself (Average score = 3.46) and disagree with the idea that choosing a popular species means that you lack creativity (Average score = 2.34).

3.10 Fursona Personality

On several of our surveys, we’ve given participants a measure called the Ten-Item Personality Inventory.🐾 It assesses five of the most well-studied, validated personality dimensions/traits in the psychological literature: extroversion (the extent to which a person is outgoing/energized by social activities), agreeableness (the extent to which a person seeks harmonious, non-confrontational interactions), conscientiousness (mindfulness, organization, planning), emotional stability (resistance to emotional outbursts and neurotic/pathological thoughts), and openness to experience (the extent to which a person favors and embraces new experiences). Participants are asked to rate both themselves and their fursonas on these items. We are then able to compare the personality traits of furries and their fursonas to one another, as well as with previously-established norms on each of these five traits (based on the responses of thousands of participants from other research). These data are presented in the table below.🐾

Personality Traits of Furries, Fursonas, and Established Norms

Trait Furries Fursonas

Established Norms

Extraversion 3.44 4.74 4.44
Agreeableness 4.89 5.36 5.23
Conscientiousness 4.73 4.93 5.40
Emotional Stability 4.55 5.17 4.83
Openness to Experience 5.43 5.09 5.38
Across all five traits, furries rated themselves significantly different from their fursonas, who were more extraverted, more agreeable, more conscientious, more emotionally stable, and less open to experience than they were. Counter-intuitively, with the exception of openness to experience, furries’ fursonas seem to have a “normalizing” effect: they are closer to established personality trait norms than furries themselves. This suggests the possibility that some furries use their fursona (and interacting with others through their fursonas) as a way to “improve” their personality by normalizing it, a finding consistent with other work suggesting that fursonas often represent idealized selves.🐾 These findings are a bit ironic, given the fantasy nature of fursonas and the stereotype that they are an indicator of dysfunction.🐾

3.11 Self-Fursona Similarity

Given that many furries indicate that their fursonas come, at least in part, from within themselves,🐾 we have tested the extent to which furries perceived their fursonas as being similar to themselves.

In one study, furries indicated that their fursona’s personality was very similar to their own, with 35% of furries saying that they were virtually identical.🐾

3-11 similarity of fursona to self

In another study, we asked furries to distinguish between physical similarity, psychological similarity, and behavioural similarity.🐾 The results, displayed in the figure below, show that furries feel psychologically and behaviourally similar to their fursonas, though the similarities apply far less when it comes to skin-deep physical similarities.

3-11 nature of similarity to fursona

3.12 Fursona as Ideal Self

Given that fursona creation involves a fantasy element, it’s worth asking what sorts of fursonas people choose to create for themselves. After all, largely unbound by the constraints of reality, it’s possible to create almost any kind of fursona one wishes. Given that psychological theories about self-esteem generally predict that people are motivated to see themselves positively, and given that fursonas are at least somewhat inspired by the self,🐾 we tested the hypothesis that furries generally create fursonas that represent better, idealized versions of themselves.

One way we did this was to ask furries to indicate whether their fursona would score higher or lower than they would on a number of traits—some desirable, some undesirable. The results, displayed in the figure below,🐾 show that furries see their fursonas as having more desirable traits than they do (indicated by higher bars for attractive, confident, energetic, and playful) and fewer undesirable traits than they do (indicated by the lower bars for shy, disorganized, predictable, unstable).

3-12 similarity of fursona to self

In the same study, we tested whether furries’ fursonas represented their ideal selves by asking furries explicitly whether they agreed that this was the case (see figure below).

3-12 nature of similarity of fursona to self

Furries generally agreed that their fursonas represented idealized versions of themselves, even more than they believed that their fursonas represented who they actually were (the data also show that another one of a fursona’s primarily functions is to allow them to experience something novel that they would otherwise not get to experience in day-to-day life). We’re interested in the implications of this finding. Research on ideal selves suggests that people generally strive to become more like their ideal selves. As such, we believe that furries may be striving to become more like their fursonas. For example, if you are a shy person, having an outgoing, extraverted fursona may give you an opportunity to “try out” being an extraverted person within a relatively safe and supportive community. While doing this, you not only get practice being a more assertive, outgoing self, but you may begin to change the way you see yourself—no longer as a shy person because, after all, you spend time being outgoing among others.

But there’s another possibility: if one’s fursona represents an ideal version of who you are, could it actually be depressing? After all, if your fursona is ideal, but is very different from who you are, it may reinforce the fact that you are not your ideal self. The data generally support this assertion: furries who stated that their fursonas represented their ideal self, but that they were very different from their fursonas, were more frustrated with themselves, had lower self-esteem, and lower overall well-being than furries who said they were similar to their fursonas, who also happened to represent their ideal selves. We tested a similar hypothesis in another study,🐾 and found that the extent to which furries both identified with their fursonas and felt that their fursonas represented their ideal self, they were also more likely to have a higher self-esteem.

Taken together, the data suggest that a fursona, far from being trivial, can be deeply meaningful for furries. In particular, the combination of what their fursona represents for them and how similar they see themselves to their fursona is significantly associated with their well- being and their overall positive sense of self. This data is only correlational, so it remains for future research to determine whether discrepancies between the self and one’s fursona cause these decreases in well-being or whether they are a symptom of pre-existing low self-esteem and poor well-being. Nonetheless, this research suggests that fursonas may play an important role, whether as a mechanism supporting, or an indicator of an existing, problem (or as a mechanism contributing to, or indicator of, a healthy sense of self). And, generally speaking, the healthiest fursonas seem to be the ones that represent are a composite of who you would like to be and who you are right now.

In one study, furries were asked to rate their agreement with a number of questions asking about the extent to which their fursona represented an ideal version of themselves (e.g., “My fursona represents who/what I would like to become”). Analyses revealed that furries who tended to agree with these items also scored higher in well-being and self-esteem, on average. They were also more likely to agree that thinking about their fursona helped them through difficult times, that their fursona helped them express themselves, and even agreed that it made them feel better about who they were.🐾

In a more recent study, we further tested the hypothesis that fursonas serve a protective function for furries’ well-being.🐾 Participants completed one of several different versions of the survey, which differed slightly in the types of questions asked and the order in which the questions were asked. Most participants were asked to perform a task designed to evoke somewhat negative feelings—to think about the ways that they were not living up to their ideal selves. Analyses revealed that participants who did this task had more negative feelings afterward than participants who did not. Some participants also completed an additional task: being asked to describe their fursona before or after completing the mood-dropping question. Compared to participants who were not asked about their fursonas, furries who provided information about their fursonas experienced significantly fewer negative feelings as a result of the threat. We believe this is because fursonas allow furries the opportunity to distance themselves from their current limitations or faults, allowing them to conceptualize themselves in a more positive manner.