It should come as no surprise to you that after a prolonged hibernation, the BrainEthics team is heading back to the web-surface to present the novelties and oddities of cognitive neuroscience. And let’s start again with some fresh news from Nature, which besides featuring a nice focus section on the Drosophila, also has a nice article on (non-human) animal personality. Max Wolf et al. writes that personality has been shown in a number of other animal species. For pet owners such as myself, this is hardly any surprise (I can read that the cotons we have here are” playful, affectionate, intelligent breed. It loves people and as a result can have separation anxiety”. Indeed! But with the two we have, there are differences that are not only slight, but what I would say differences in temperament, or maybe even personality.
So what is new with the Nature article? Three things:
- it is a scientific acknowledgement of animal minds and personality
- it holds promise of the operationalization of personality
- it provides a model to explain the existence of human personality
As a matter of fact, I can see a whole new research field coming to existence through this very article (although the earliest findings already came in the 60’s). Through the study of animal personality, it may be possible to break down the good ol’ paradigms that have solely focused on humans.
The central theme in the Wolf paper is why personalities did evolve in the first place. The researchers ask the question:
First, why do different personality types stably coexist? Second, why is behaviour not more flexible but correlated across contexts and through time? And third, why are the same types of traits correlated in very different taxa?
Basically, the authors’ model starts by assuming that an individual can either reproduce now, but having acquired low-quality resources, or delay reproduction by one year, having acquired high-quality resources. For example, an individual that becomes sexually mature at a young age will have to balance the benefit of early reproduction against the cost of reproducing at a smaller size. Individuals that postpone reproduction must be able to survive to realize their reproductive expectations, and should therefore be generally risk-averse, whereas the opposite is true for those planning to reproduce early. So stable individual differences in risk-taking behaviours can evolve and be maintained when there is a trade-off between early versus late reproduction.
I won’t go more into details now, except point you to the ongoing discussion in Nature about this article (here and here). It’s certainly also going to get non-biologically personality theorists out of their armchairs, too. I look forward to keep an eye on this debate as it rolls out.