Here’s some more information from IFAAB, based on a talk presented by Dr. Samuel Gosling at UT-Austin. He is studying personality in animals, and has looked at it in species as varied as hyenas and dumpling squid. (And yes, dumpling squid are just as cute as they sound).
He spoke briefly about the history of scientific attitudes toward personality in animals–at one point it was almost a dirty word, but in the last twenty years the term (and the concept) has become generally accepted. (Although he mentioned one researcher who still uses the term “behavioral syndrome” to avoid sounding anthropomorphic.) I must admit, as a someone trained in science myself, I still find it remarkable that the concept of personality in animals was ever controversial. It is astounding how essential it is to many to keep the division between human and animal clear and strong.
Related to that, here are two quotes I use in the Introduction to my UW class on Human/Animal Relationships:
“…the delineation of human/animal relationships occurs in all cultures, and in all cultures, this boundary is of great significance.” (Arien Mack – Humans and Other Animals, 1995)
“Our culture and our dominant religions have tied human dignity and self-worth to our separation from nature and distinctiveness from other animals.” Frans de Waal, Ape and the Sushi Master
However, the concept of personality even in people was controversial to some behaviorists. Encouragingly, Gosling reported that journal articles using the word, both in studies on human and animal behavior have seen a large increase, especially in the last decade. It seems that the pendulum is finally swinging back to a reasonable place, where we can acknowledge that genetics and experience combine to create predictable behavior patterns in individuals, whether they are human, dog, horse or kangaroo.
Here’s an interesting study of Gosling’s that related to how owners view the personality of their dogs. He asked people at a dog park to fill out a questionnaire about their dogs, and then did some simple tests to learn a bit about the personalities of the owners. You guessed it, there was a strong correlation between how people themselves behaved and how they perceived their dogs. Agreeable dogs were more likely to have agreeable owners, neurotic owners more likely to have neurotic dogs, etc. … Hard to say what’s going on here: could be that we owners project our own tendencies onto our dogs, or perhaps we choose dogs with similar characteristics. Or do we and our dogs began to act like one another after being together long enough!?.
Most interestingly, he found that people were consistent in how they rated other people as well… in other words, if they saw a dog as being “agreeable” they tended to rate other people as agreeable as often as not. But he also found the independent observers tended to rate people’s dogs similarly as did the owners, so it is not as though the owners were totally off base….
Gosling also made the point that “Temperament” refers to the genetic predisposition of an individual to behave a certain way, while “Personality” refers to a predisposition influenced both by experience and by genetics. Thus, we really shouldn’t call them “Temperament Tests,” should we?
Meanwhile, back at the farm: Remember the photo of the ewe Spot getting shorn, with her pristine white belly appearing underneath her wool? Well, that was then and this is now. I didn’t get a photo, but this morning I didn’t recognize a sheep in the pen at first, couldn’t figure out who was the little, brown ewe by the feeder? Turns out it was Spot, covered in mud, literally from head to tail. The only explanation I can think of is that she was resting lying down and struggled in the mud to get up. Sheep can get in trouble if they lay down with their legs pointing uphill. Based on her complete coat of mud, II suspect tht she struggled a long time before she could get up. I couldn’t see any injuries, and she seemed hungry and not visibly the worse for wear, so I’ll keep an eye on her tonight and hope she’s fine. Poor little thing, she’s quite small and clearly the bottom of the hierarchy, I find I feel a bit protective of her.
Back to sunny Sunday, here’s Willie moving the sheep out of the barn after shearing. (don’t they look spiffy?)
In the next photo you can see the white version of Spot. She is the one at the very back.. with the, uh, Spot. Now she’s pretty much all dark brown…
Next is Will, trying to ignore Sushi while waiting to work the sheep….
Rachel H. says
Have you seen this “LED Sheep” video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut2Lj99cHr4
Some people are saying it’s fake … I’m less inclined to disparage the Border Collies and sheepherders involved. What do you think?
Speaking of Spot, and as a follow-up to a previous blog entry that mentioned the book “Speaking up for Spot”…
Dr. Nancy Kay was the guest on today’s (3/19/09) edition of Fresh Air on NPR.
I only caught the tail end of the interview, so I will have to listen to it later. The audio file is available from the above link.
I remember from my Psychology courses in personality (years ago) that personality was defined as “relatively permanent ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” I was always amazed at how the Behaviorists had no patience for the thinking and feeling parts.
Uh-oh! Our dog is jealous, not fond of people and kinda nervous. What does that say about my husband and me? On the other hand, our cat (adopted later) is friendly and sweet-tempered. So maybe we’ve improved with age?
I wonder what it says about me: I had a Golden Lab for ten years who was the sunniest, most laid-back personality around; and at the same time, a border collie mix rescue who was wary, tightly wound, and ready to battle all comers, kind of “I’ll get them before they get me” attitude…. hmmmmm
Okay – now I’m really in a pickle. My three dogs couldn’t be any more different than they are:
One is scared of life in general, the other would love to conquer the world and “kill” anything or anyone in his way, and the third is kind, patient and very sweet. 🙂
Does that make me schizophrenic ? *lol*
Love that picture of the spring-clean sheep – okay, there’s one muddy exception – and the “odd couple”, Will and Sushi ! 🙂
I would be so flattered to think that my dogs reflected me but instead I suspect they’ve been working on me for years and any positive traits I evidence are the result of their patient loving training. (I believe they are also working on the cats but somewhat less successfully).
I think the word to remember is “how they perceived their dog”. I don’t think that precludes our ability to recognize a dog’s basic psychological make up. Just like I know the difference between Pogo’s submissiveness and desire to be cuddled and Annie’s bossiness and happy energy. I do not think they are particularly like me except Annie is *ahem* extremely clever. I can tell you how they feel at any given time, how they react to any given situation, who’s laid back and who’s not, etc. I will strongly argue w/ anyone who thinks personality and though does not exist in dogs.
“But he also found the independent observers tended to rate people