The role of individual personality in the successful formation of new social groups with aged chimpanzees in a sanctuary environment
Personality research in humans has been ongoing for decades. The importance of individual differences (i.e. personality) within human social relationships has been acknowledged by many disciplines (Dutton, Clark, & Dickens, 1997). The insight that can be gained from personality research extends far beyond that of human social relationships. Personality research can provide information about: an individual’s subjective well-being (Weiss, King, & Perkins, 2006; King & Landau, 2003), the heritability of behavior traits (Weiss, King, & Figueredo, 2000), the evolutionary nature and origins of personality (Gosling & John, 1999, Uher, 2008a), the prediction of future behavior (Capitanio, 1999; Gosling & Vazire, 2002; Pederson, King, & Landau, 2005), or even one’s physiological response to infectious disease (Capitanio, Mendoza, & Baroncelli, 1999).
Personality research is not limited to humans, as individual personality is well noted in many species including: nonhuman primates, many other mammals, and even octopuses and guppies (Gosling & John, 1999). Researching animal personality for comparison can be beneficial. By comparing human personality with other animals, any commonalities and/or differences that emerge will inform what humans are and are not as a species. Moreover, these patterns highlight evolutionary relationships between organisms through behavior.
To date, methods used in the assessment of individual personality in nonhuman animals have been limited to surveys from animal keepers and care staff. Generally, animals are scored for presence or absence of personality traits on a scale, limiting their scientific value for several reasons. The traits and scales used in these surveys can, for instance, vary from one study to the next, making it difficult to directly compare results. Moreover, these surveys are often subjective because some keepers may know specific animals better than others, some keepers may rate an animal based on first impressions, how an animal acts toward a keeper can vary depending on the individual keeper, and, furthermore, an animal may act differently towards humans than conspecifics.
In contrast to the problematic survey assessment method, Uher (2008) proposed a behavioral repertoire ‘bottom-up’ approach in the assessment of nonhuman animal personality. This method focuses on individual variation within a species, and scores personality based on objective, observed behavior rather than subjective keeper surveys. The main goal of this study is to test Uher’s (2008) methods for assessing personality in sanctuary chimpanzees. If this method works, the secondary aim of this study is to investigate the role of chimpanzee personality within groups and across age and sex classes.
Faculty Mentor: Judith Corr, Anthropology
Page last modified July 28, 2009