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Behavioural measurements versus assessments of personality

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lorraine Coulson.

Many animal species exhibit pronounced individual-specific behaviours commonly construed as personality or temperament. Their ecological and evolutionary relevance is meanwhile unquestioned, but the conceptual and methodological foundations are often not well known. I elaborate three defining criteria to disentangle individual-specific from random individual variation and introduce two central perspectives taken on individuals. Variable-centred analyses explore between-individual differences in populations; individual-centred analyses explore the single individual and its unique configurations of behavioural patterns. Both perspectives are needed to understand why the cross-situational consistency of individual behaviour is often only moderate and the ways in which individuals’ responses to different situations can be individual-specific. I demonstrate how personality differences can be measured reliably in controlled experiments and group observations, illustrated with examples from my studies involving great apes, capuchins and macaques. Finally, I critically analyse personality ratings by human observers, which have gained increasing popularity among some animal researchers. I demonstrate empirically that their apparent advantages over ethological measurements, such as higher correlations among behaviours or across situations, may derive from biased perceptions and attributions of human observers that can, but need not accurately reflect the behavioural reality of animal individuals.

This talk is part of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Seminars series.

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