Another year, another successful study of the furry fandom at Anthrocon for the International Anthropomorphic Research Project! Once again, we broke a record for the number of participants completing our in-person convention survey, with a total sample of just over 1,200 participants – It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago we were celebrating breaking the 1,000 participant mark! In addition, however, we also encouraged attendees at Anthrocon and at a second convention, CanFURence who did not want to complete the survey in-person to complete it online. As a result, we ended with a total sample that was just shy of 1,400 participants – truly, a great year for science!
This year’s survey was a mix of classic questions and some additional lines of research. As always, we included measures of various descriptive variables in our ongoing attempt to better understand the composition of the furry fandom. In addition, however, new questions put a novel spin on old topics, as well as looking into entirely new subjects. Below, we discuss some of the more interesting findings as they pertain to the topic of sexual orientation in the fandom, gender identity, therians, fursuiters, and the difference between fanship (being a fan of something) and fandom (being part of a fan community).
For ease of presentation, we’ve opted to go for a stats-lite approach to data presentation, to avoid bombarding the reader with the results of t-tests and multiple regressions. For those who are particularly stats-savvy, unless otherwise indicated, between-group differences are significant at p<.05.
And remember: If you’d like to ask us any questions, or have a suggestion for research questions you’d like us to investigate, get in touch with us at www.furscience.com!
Given our interest in better understanding not only the demographics of our participants, but also the nature of our sample, we looked at the extent to which participants tended to complete and return our survey on each day of the convention (Thursday – Sunday). We have typically noted that the most successful day of distributing surveys tends to be on the first day of a convention, where participants are typically waiting in a registration line and when the convention is not yet in full swing. As it turns out, the data seem to support this observation: Nearly 62% of our responses were from furries who had completed and returned their survey on the first day of the convention, followed by 27% who returned it on the second day. While this may seem more like trivia than substantial findings, such results are worth keeping in mind in future studies if we wish to assess peoples’ thoughts about the convention (many furries take our survey before the convention is in full swing) or if we are using measures that may assume that our sample has been exposed to the convention for a length of time.
In another question, we asked participants to indicate their relative socioeconomic status (SES) as compared to others in their country using an image of a 10-step ladder. The figure above illustrates where furry participants placed themselves on that ladder. It’s clear that the majority if furries fall somewhere within the middle of the ladder, suggesting that furries, as a group, tend to be fairly middle-class, with perhaps a slight tendency toward the lower end of the scale. This makes sense in conjunction with our prior findings showing that furries, as a group, tend to be fairly young (in their late teens and 20s) and tend to be either in college or recently graduated from college.
It’s common for us to ask furries about their fursona species. In the past, we’ve found that small personality differences do exist between particular fursona species but, as a general rule, furries with different fursona species tend to be more similar than different. That said, we’ve been interested in trying to better understand potentially important dimensions underlying the differences which do exist between different fursona species. Based on suggestions from several readers of our research, we have, in the past, asked furries whether their fursona species is either a predator species, a prey species, or both. However, many furries indicated that it was difficult to lump themselves into one category or another. We’ve attempted to fix that this year with a new measure that asks participants to indicate where their fursona species falls on a continuum from “Predator” to “Prey.” As the figure above shows, furries tend toward fursonas which are predators as compared to fursonas which are prey species – which coincides with previous research showing that the most popular species tend to be wolves and foxes – both of whom are likely considered to be predator species. Nevertheless, many furries also say that their fursona species resides somewhere in the middle.
We’ve also begun looking into the social networks of furries, given that many furries report becoming part of the furry fandom and making friends where they otherwise tended to struggle to meet people or interact with others. When asked to what extent their friends / acquaintances tended to be furries themselves, most furries indicated that some or most of their friends were furries themselves – on a small number indicated that none of their friends were furries, suggesting that furries (at least convention-going ones) tend to surround themselves with others who share a similar interest. This, it should be pointed out, is certainly not unique to furries as a group.
As part of our long-running study of subgroups within the furry fandom, we asked participants to indicate the extent to which they consider themselves to belong to other fandom-related groups as well. The results above illustrate the prevalence of various related groups and subgroups among furries.
On numerous occasions we’ve been asked whether furries differ from non-furries with respect to the prevalence of mental illness (e.g., depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, being on the autism spectrum). In the past, we’ve found little evidence for this and, if anything, our research has typically suggested just the opposite – that furries are, if anything, less prone to mental illness than others. That said, we have, in the past, found evidence to suggest that furries may be disproportionately likely to have been diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum. In the present study, we asked whether participants had ever been formally diagnosed by a professional as being on the autism spectrum: 11.7% of furries indicated that they have. This is a number considerably higher than that of the general population, though it carries with it some important caveats. First, males are more likely than females to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and given that the fandom is predominantly male, this may account for at least some of this difference. As a second point, we believe that this finding is not unique to the furry fandom, but rather is a characteristic of any fan group. Given that one of the diagnostic criteria of autism is a strong interest / fascination with a specific subject, we think that fandoms – as places full of people with passionate interests in a topic – may be particularly appealing to people on the autism spectrum. In future studies of other fandoms (e.g., sports, brony, anime) we will test this particular hypothesis to see whether our results are idiosyncrasies of the furry fandom or part of a broader trend across all fandoms.
As a way of studying the extent to which prejudice exists against furries, we plan on asking furries and non-furries to indicate the extent to which they would want a furry person to be in a number of important positions. While we don’t yet have data from other samples for comparison, it is fun to look at how furries feel about furries in these positions! Surprisingly, furries are only lukewarm about the idea of furries having power or being professionals (e.g., president, physician), but are far more enthusiastic about having a furry as a neighbor, dating a furry, or having a furry as a friend. It will be interesting to see how these numbers compare to the general population’s belief about the desirability of furries in these positions.
In recent years, we’ve been asked by furries to study the subject of fetishes within the furry fandom. A recent online survey of furries and other fan groups revealed that it would be nearly impossible to meaningfully compare the prevalence of fetishes within the furry fandom to the general population, as furries indicated that they were more likely to be open and honest about their sexuality / fetishes with a researcher than members of other groups were. Nevertheless, we did ask furries to indicate, on a 7-point scale, the extent to which they considered furry to be a fetish themselves and the extent to which they thought the average furry considered furry to be a fetish. First, it should be noted that both results were less than the mid-point of the scale: Furries indicated their own interest in furry as a fetish as 3.55 and estimated the average furry’s interest at 3.86. More interestingly, the data suggest that furries tend tooverestimate the extent to which furry is a fetish for other furries. This is in line with several other findings from past studies suggesting that, despite the perception by many of furry as a fetish, for most furries this is not the case, though furries may themselves be prone to erroneously believing this stereotype about other furries. It should also be noted that this is not to say that there are not furries for whom the fandom is a fetish – prior research suggests that this is likely the case for about 5-10% of the furry fandom. Nor is there anything wrong with furry being a fetish for these folks. Instead, we are simply pointing out that it would be inaccurate to categorize furries as a group as being fetish-based, as it would be describing the group as a whole based on a minority within the group.
As a final, somewhat fun descriptive statistic, we’ve always been a bit concerned about the length of our surveys, which can number more than 200 questions. As such, there is a very real concern about participant fatigue and the tendency to stop paying attention to questions and simply circle random numbers (e.g., circling all 7s for a set of questions without reading them). To test for this, we snuck what’s called an attention check into our survey, a question which said “Still paying attention? Circle the number 2” [out of a set of 5 possible answers]. It was reassuring to see that most of our participants were, in fact, paying attention: 94% of furries did as the question asked. It should also be noted that among the 6% who did not, many of them chose to instead assert their independence / resist the instruction (e.g., circling every number except for the number 2, writing “no, I do what I want”). Such responses, while not obeying the instructions, do show that participants were, in fact, paying attention to the question, and so the number is actually even higher than 94%!
As in previous years, we asked our participants to indicate their sexual orientation. Unlike past years, however, instead of asking participants to indicate their sexual orientation on a traditional Kinsey scale ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, we took a simpler, categorical approach, giving participants several options to choose from.
The result of assessing sexual orientation this way was illuminating. In previous years, using the Kinsey scale, heterosexuality, while never a majority, was always the most commonly chosen option. Assessed using labels, however, bisexuality emerged as the most frequent sexual orientation, with only about 20% of furries self-identifying as heterosexual. It is also worth noting that other orientations, such as asexuality, emerged as fairly prominent in the fandom, with about 1 in 11 furries identifying as such.
In a series of questions about acceptance of various sexual orientations within the fandom, furry participants were asked to both guess the extent to which the average furry was accepting of each sexual orientation within the fandom, and then to provide their own rated acceptance of each orientation. The data reveal two interesting trends. First, furries’ actual rates of acceptance were considerably higher than predicted. Put another way, furries expect the average furry to beless tolerant of other sexual orientations than they, themselves, are – furries underestimate the tolerance of other furries. Second, and perhaps even more interesting, this effect seems to be largest with respect to asexuality and heterosexuality: Furries believe that other furries are somewhat less tolerant of asexual and heterosexual people in the fandom, despite furries being virtually identical in their actual acceptance of all sexual orientations in the fandom. These data go against the often-held belief among some in the fandom that straight furries are not accepted or are unwelcome in the furry fandom.
We conducted a series of analyses aimed at testing whether there were measurable differences between straight furries and non-straight (e.g., asexual, gay, bisexual, pansexual) furries on a number of different variables. The results of these analyses are as follows (keeping in mind that these are only average tendencies, and do not reflect differences for all straight / non-straight furries):
|They do not differ on…||Non-straight furries…|
|– How long they’ve been in the fandom||– Identify more strongly as furries, with other furries, and with their fursonas|
|– How “open” they are about being furry||– Are less likely to have a “predator” fursona|
|– How much they engage in harmful forms of fantasy (e.g., delusion, excess)||– Engage in more “positive” forms of fantasy|
|– How likely they are to have been diagnosed with autism||– Have a stronger bond with animals|
|– Their satisfaction with their current relationship status||– Are more likely to consider furry a fetish|
|– Their social skills / having problems with social interaction||– Score lower on measures of psychological well-being|
|– Their belief that the furry fandom accept gay, straight or bisexual people||– Believe that furries are less accepting of asexual people in the fandom|
In past years, we have struggled to find an ideal way to assess the distinct, but related constructs of sex and gender identity within the furry fandom. While there is no perfect way to measure these constructs, we have become more refined in our way of assessing them in recent surveys.
When assessing a person’s assigned sex at birth, 73.0% of participants selected “male”, 26.5% selected “female”, and 0.5% selected “other.”
We next assessed participants’ gender identity, giving them a series of options to choose from (including the ability to write in their own option), and allowing them to choose as many options as suited them (which is why the results add up to greater than 100%). The results found that the majority of furries identify as male, although one-quarter of furries identify as female. Transgender, genderfluid, and non-binary furries are also present at rates considerably higher than observed in the general population.
In an effort to estimate approximate proportion of furries in the fandom who identify as transgender, participants were asked to pick one option from a choice of six which best described them (with an option to provide their own answer if appropriate). This was done to avoid “double-counting” anyone who identified with more than one category. As the figure above illustrates, 12.2% of furries fall within the broad category of “transgender”, a number more than 20 times higher than that typically observed in the general population. In short, the data from these questions illuminates the importance of considering transgender, genderqueer, and other non-binary gender identities when understanding the composition of the furry fandom, as they make up a considerable proportion of the fandom.
We conducted a series of analyses aimed at testing whether there were measurable differences between transgender / gender non-conforming furries and cisgender furries on a number of different variables. The results of these analyses are as follows (keeping in mind that these are only average tendencies, and do not reflect differences for all furries within these categories):
|They do not differ on…||Transgender / Non-Conforming furries…|
|– How long they’ve been in the fandom||– Identify more strongly as furries and with their fursonas|
|– How strongly they identify with their fursonas||– Engage in more positive forms of fantasy|
|– Their choice of predator / prey fursonas||– Have a stronger bond with animals|
|– Engagement in negative fantasy (e.g., delusion, excess)||– Are more likely to disclose their furry identity to others|
|– Extent to which furry is a fetish for them||– Experience considerably lower psychological well-being|
|– Being diagnosed with autism||– Experience more difficulty interacting with others|
|– Satisfaction with their relationships||– Feel furries are less accepting of transgender people in the fandom|
Therians are defined as people who consider themselves, in whole or in part, to be a non-human animal – be it in a physical, psychological, or spiritual manner. Past research has put the number of self-identified therians in the fandom as somewhere between 5% and 20%, with the current sample containing 7% therians.
Given the possibility that a person may identity with a non-human animal species without knowing the term “therian” (something we often encounter when giving talks about our research!), we asked a number of questions to assess the prevalence of therian-related experiences within the fandom. In the above figure, which asks about therianthropy (blue bars) and otherkin (orange bars), it’s clear that the vast majority of furries do not have either of these beliefs, though more than 7% of furries indicate at least some degree of agreement with these beliefs. Below, we find that while most furries disagree with the idea that they are not entirely human, many do wish that they could become something other than human, even if that “something” is not entirely 0% human.
|Item||% of Sample saying “Yes”|
|Do you believe you are less than 100% human?||22%|
|Do you believe you are other than 100% human (e.g., human plus something else)?||23%|
|If you could become 0% human, would you?||46%|
|Do you wish you could become something other than 100% human?||79%|
We conducted a series of analyses aimed at testing whether there were measurable differences between therian furries and non-therian furries on a number of different variables. The results of these analyses are as follows (keeping in mind that these are only average tendencies, and do not reflect differences for all therians and non-therians):
|They do not differ on…||Therian furries……|
|– The extent to which furry is a fetish||– Feel more non-human and have a greater desire to be non-human|
|– Their psychological well-being||– View humans, as a group, more negatively|
|– Their happiness with their relationships||– Engage in more positive, but also more negative (e.g., delusion, excessive) fantas|
|– The problems they experience interacting with others||– Feel a stronger bond with animals|
|– Being diagnosed with autism||– Experience considerably lower psychological well-being|
|– Like animals more and feel a more spiritual connection to animals|
|– Feel a greater sense of spirituality|
|– Feel more connected to nature|
While we often find few differences between our samples of convention-going furries and online samples of furries, one of the few fairly consistent differences between the groups relates to fursuit ownership. While prior studies have suggested that fursuit ownership is fairly uncommon in the furry fandom in general (e.g., 15-25%), our Anthrocon 2018 sample found that 45.8% of furries owned a partial or full fursuit. One likely reason for this difference between convention-going and online furry samples is the fact that those who own a fursuit will be drawn to conventions, where they have the opportunity to wear and display their suit in public. Another possible explanation is the fact that fursuits are often prohibitively expensive, and furries who are able to afford a suit are also more likely to be able to afford the expense of traveling to attend a convention.
In past studies, we’ve looked at, and found, differences between fursuiters and non-fursuiters. In the present study, we took a different approach, asking fursuiters to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with different facets about fursuiting. Taken together, the statements seem to support the idea that many fursuiters feel a sense of confidence and disinhibition (i.e., freedom to be themselves, freedom from social norms) when suiting, and find it easier to interact with others when doing so. Furries seem to be more divided when it comes to whether their fursuits allow them to be less judged about their sexuality or gender.
|I’ve customized my fursuit or made parts of it myself.||Fairly evenly divided, but slightly more likely than not to say they have customized or made parts of their suit.|
|It’s easier to interact with people I don’t know when I’m in my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|When I fursuit, I do things that would normally be difficult or impossible for me to do when out of suit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|The fursuit or fursuits I own each have their own unique fursona, or some of them do||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|I care more about what others think of me when I’m wearing my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters disagreed.|
|I act differently when I’m wearing my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|It’s easier to meet new people when I’m in my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|It’s easier to interact with people I know when I’m in my fursuit||Furries were fairly divided about this item, with only a slight tendency to agree.|
|I feel less judged in regards to my sexuality when I’m in my fursuit||Furries were very divided about this item, with almost equal numbers agreeing, disagreeing, and being in the middle about it.|
|I feel more confident when I’m wearing my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|I care less about what others think of me when I’m wearing my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|Wearing my fursuit allows others to see the real me||Furries were quite divided about this item, with only a slight tendency for fursuiters to agree.|
|I feel less constrained by my assigned gender (what others think my gender is or ought to be) when I’m in my fursuit||Furries were fairly divided about this item, with a small tendency for fursuiters to disagree.|
|Wearing my fursuit allows others to see another side of me||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|I feel less judged in regards to my personality when I’m in my fursuit||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
|I feel more accepted by others when I’m wearing my fursuit than when I am not wearing it||The vast majority of fursuiters agreed.|
Fandom vs. Fanship
Psychologists who study fans make an important distinction between the concepts of “fanship” and “fandom”. In a nutshell, “fanship” is the extent to which you enjoy something or are passionate about it (i.e., you watch a particular show a lot, own merchandise, get excited about fan-related content). The concept of “fandom” is related, but distinct from fanship: Fandom refers to the extent that you engage in your fan interest with a community of other fans (e.g., go to conventions, talk with other fans, share content with other fans). Fanship and fandom tend to be related: People who are high in fanship also tend to be higher in fandom. They are not perfectly correlated, however. This means that some people may be high in fanship but low in fandom (i.e., they love watching a show alone by themselves, but are uninterested in meeting other fans). The reverse is also possible: Some people may be high in fandom, but low in fanship (i.e., they love spending time in fan communities, but have relatively little interest in the shows or content itself).
Analyses suggest that the furries in our sample scored fairly high on both fandom and fanship, but these were not perfectly correlated. As such, it is possible to look at whether fandom and fanship are associated with different outcomes among furries. Analyses revealed the following differences:
- Fanship was associated with stronger feelings of elitism in the fandom (e.g., believing that you were better than newer furries); Fandom was associated with less elitism.
- Fanship was associated with a greater tendency to engage in negative forms of fantasy (e.g., delusion, excess); Fandom was associated with less negative fantasy engagement.
- Fanship was associated with a greater tendency to consider furry to be a fetish for you; Fandom was unrelated to the extent to which furry was considered to be a fetish for you.
- Fanship was unrelated to a tendency to believe that furry was a fetish for other furries; Fandom was associated with a tendency to believe that furry was not a fetish for other furries.
- Fanship was unrelated to the extent to which you believed that the fandom’s public reputation was getting better; Fandom was related to beliefs that the fandom’s public reputation was getting better
- Fanship was associated with lower psychological well-being; Fandom was associated with better psychological well-being