If you own a pet, you’re probably convinced that it has its own personality. However, science isn’t convinced. Animal personalities are seen as “goofy, frivolous, and the purview of overly sentimental dog owners.”, but this begins to change.
Personalities were forgotten
For a long time, personalities of animals were filtered out in research results. If, for example, a scientist studies a group of rats, and he or she wants to know how much they eat, the scientist measures how much food every rat eats for a couple of days, and then averages the results. With this method, you can’t trace back the individual preferences of the rats, and thus you can’t study personalities. This is why it has been thought for a long time that personalities in animals didn’t exist.
Andy Sih, one of the pioneers in researching animal personalities, first noticed it in salamanders. While some of the salamanders hid as bird, which eat salamanders, fly by, others didn’t seem to react. Sih found this behaviour odd, since only the salamanders that protect themselves the best from the birds should survive. Like Charles Darwin already discovered. But then Sih realized that the salamanders that didn’t hide also had an advantage. They have more time to swim around and hunt for food than the ‘scared’ salamanders, since they didn’t hide behind rocks so much. When the ditch where the salamanders lived in would dry out, the ‘courageous’ salamanders would have more chances of surviving, since they are bigger because they’ve eaten more.
Niels Dingemanse, of the University of Munich, and his team have discovered a similar thing in great tits. They found out that aggressive birds in the group don’t thrive as well as the more timid and docile birds when there isn’t enough food. This may sound weird, but the team has a good explanation for it. When there isn’t much food, aggressive great tits get all wound up in fights about the food. This takes up a lot of energy. While the more timid birds don’t fight and use way less energy for that, although they may eat a little less. An interesting thing however, is that this principle has already been seen in humans. This means that we are now not only able to observe personalities in animals, but these studies may also learn us more about human behaviour and personalities.
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