Magazine Masthead
category: Biology

Animals Have Personalities Too, Call Them Animalities

Post: April 9, 2013 12:34 pm
Author: Lee Dugatkin         Source: Slate

Rob is a risk taker—the kind of guy who climbs mountains just because they are there. And he’ll be the first to tell you that he does it for the rush. Kristin is more reserved, but don’t ask her about that, because she’s not a talker. Adrian is always happy; Steve takes offense when none is intended. They all have different personalities.

Psychologists usually define personality in terms of the expression of stable, enduring behavioral patterns. One of the most studied personality traits is shyness. People who are shy when they are young are very likely to be shy for their entire lives.

Every human society is a composite of different personality types. A mix of personalities makes for a more pleasant society, perhaps even a more functional one. A society of pure risk takers probably would not last long, nor would a society composed completely of shy folks.

But human societies are not unique in containing a mixture of different personality types. Of late, evolutionary behaviorists have turned to studying animalities. More and more evidence, from a wide variety of species—cats, dogs, hyenas, and many other critters—suggests that animals within a given population show consistent differences in how they behave, and that these differences often map nicely onto the sorts of patterns we see in humans. But animal behaviorists like me are interested in much more than whether animals and humans show similar animality/personality types. We want to understand the costs and benefits associated with different animal temperaments.

Read more at Slate.