Study proves that animals have different personalities

A A A

It will come as no surprise to owners of cantankerous cats or disobedient dogs, but scientists have now confirmed what pet lovers have always known: that each animal has its own distinct personality.

More than 60 different species, from primates and rodents to fish and even insects, have been scientifically documented to exhibit individual differences in characteristics such as aggression or shyness.

Scientists believe there is an evolutionary basis behind personality differences between members of the same species and that animal personality has to do with a trade-off between safe and risky behaviour.

The researchers say that their hypothesis can explain why even animals with relatively straightforward and genetically innate behaviour, such as snails and ants, can be seen as having individual personalities.

"Farmers, dog-owners and others who spend time observing animals know that non-human animals can differ strikingly in character and temperament," said Max Wolf, a biologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. "Yet only in recent years has it become evident that personalities are a widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Indeed, animals as diverse as spiders, mice and squids appear to have personalities."

Dr Wolf added: "By 'personality' we usually mean some kind of consistency in behaviour. If an animal is bold, aggressive or extrovert they tend to be stable in these characteristics over time. They don't switch their behaviour abruptly."

A young great tit, for example, which exhibits the trait of exploring a new environment in a superficial way will tend to continue this superficial exploration of its surroundings as it gets older, Dr Wolf said.

"Even more interestingly, it will also tend to be more aggressive than its thoroughly exploring conspecifics [members of the same species] and behave more boldly when confronted with novel objects, as well as have a different dominance position in the group hierarchy."

The study, published in the journal Nature, points out that it is difficult to explain how such individual differences in behaviour have come about unless they are seen as the results of two rival strategies - live fast and die young, or grow old gracefully. "In many cases personalities are shaped by a simple underlying principle: the more an individual stands to lose in terms of reproduction, the more cautiously it should behave, in all kinds of situations and consistently over time," Dr Wolf said.

"Many personality traits have a risky component. According to our theory, individuals who have little to lose should take risks, those who have much to lose should not. In effect, some individuals invest in future benefits and late reproduction, whereas other individuals put more emphasis on current benefits and reproduce early," he said.

The trade-off between the two strategies - risky and safe behaviour - results in the type of personality differences scientists and pet owners have observed in a wide range of species, the researchers say.

"It simultaneously explains the coexistence of behavioural types, the consistency of behaviour through time and the structure of behavioural correlations across contexts," the Nature report says. "Moreover, it explains the common finding that explorative behaviour and risk-related traits are common characteristics of animal personalities."

Dr Wolf said that whether the same approach can be used to explain differences in human personality is still open to question.

"At the very least, the results of this study could be taken to provide an evolutionary underpinning of the common saying that 'he that has least to lose has least to fear'," he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable