WASHINGTON, D.C.--Most people believe that animals have unique personalities. Not only is that true, but new research, presented yesterday at the annual AAAS meeting, also suggests that these personalities are so complex that they can be measured along human lines.
The best-known human personality test is based on five major factors: conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness. By querying dog owners on their pets' traits, Samuel Gosling of the University of Texas, Austin, created a similar test based on four traits: energy, affiliativeness, emotional reactivity, and competence. His team also made a test for hyenas based on assertiveness, excitability, human-directed agreeableness, sociability, and curiosity.
Gosling's results indicate that although each species may have its own unique characteristics, fundamental traits are so universal that it's possible to describe humans and animals through terminology designed for either. For example, "openness" in humans is better characterized as "curiosity" in animals. And he found that the traits of neuroticism, agreeableness, and extraversion cut across all species. "Personality ratings are as predictive in dogs as in humans," says Gosling. He believes that a more thorough understanding of animal personalities can aid research in humans by facilitating the hunt for biological and genetic bases of personality.
Primatologist Stephen Suomi of the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development says he believes Gosling is "the first to apply principles from personality and social psychology" to individual animal differences. He's gone beyond simply typing animals as "shy" or "aggressive," he says.
Gosling lab homepage