Pets and Personalities -- Science now thinks "maybe"...
A story in ABC News from early June of 2007 appears to indicate that science is now -- finally -- taking a look at the possibility that animals can have personalities. The article Do Pets Really Have Personality? didn't suggest anything that would come as a surprise to pet owners, of course. Regardless of pet size, shape, make or model, humans have been attributing them with personalities for years.
Of course, humans who don't own pets usually thought pet owners were crazy.
(Smoky doesn't look too impressed by the news, either.)
Here's an excerpt:
Think Your Pet has Personality? Science Didn't. Until Now., by Lee Dye, ABC News, June 6, 2007
At least 60 different species, including spiders, birds, mice, fish, insects and primates, among others, have been found to have distinct personalities in the last few years.
What's particularly puzzling to biologists is similar traits, like aggression or shyness, are found in very dissimilar species, like fish and birds, but not in every member of the species, and those traits persist over a wide range of circumstances and over a long period of time. That is the very definition of personality— consistent behavior over time and in different situations.
We decided to check out the word on the street, in order to see how this startling news was being received.
We started with Smoky, an Alaskan Malamute who is the only known Malamute with an Oklahoma driver's license.
Smoky wasn't overly impressed with the findings in the article.
Frankly, I don't get it -- why are they so slow to figure out that some animals have personalities and some don't? Aren't they supposed to have the big brains? I haven't read anything lately to indicate they aren't simply breeding in and out survival traits that respond to various stimuli; that's not personality so much as a combination of genetics and psychosis.
Our next stop was a local shooting range for police, para-military and sniper units.
SniperKitty (now serving 10-15 hard for crank phonecalls) also expressed her dismay:
It just toasts my toes that these so-called "scientists" can't figure out something as simple as whether an animal does or doesn't have a personality -- what's wrong with them?
We left SniperKitty while she was reloading, and returned home where Malamute Jack, who had just learned of the study, asked if we would like his take on things. We were delighted at his initiative; here's what he had to say:
Well, this could be huge. I mean, if they finally acknowledge that pets and animals can have personalities, then they'll probably be much more understanding of our needs. Like mine, for instance. I could really use a nice rump roast right now.
Mr. Bunny, however, appeared distant and confused at the news. Refusing to speak directly with us, he sent us an email with the following image attached:
We inquired whether he thought that the image itself constituted a form of proof of personality, and he quickly demurred to his publicist, who informed us that he had a variety of images taken for nearly every occasion and that preparedness was not a sign of personality so much as simple natural selection in action.
The publicist had to put us on hold for a moement while Mr. Bunny enlisted his help in taking his anti-psychotic and OCD meds, then rummaged around a bit before finding and emailing the following set of prepared photos:
We were going to ask him about the medication, too, but he informed us that Mr. Bunny had hopped over to the cabinet and was attempting to get another bottle of chardonnay, so he had to go.
The lead researcher of the article is Sander van Doorn, who works at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico as an evolutionary biologist. According to the ABC article, van Doorn coauthored a research paper in the journal Nature that proposed animal personality was an evolutionary factor.
Whatever the outcome of research into animal personalities, I already know the real answer. I wonder if they'll ever find a way to definitely prove it one way or the other...