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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas