Opposites may attract, but they don't make better parents

Jan 27, 2011

A study by experts at the University of Exeter has revealed that couples with similar personalities make much better parents than those with different dispositions – at least in the world of zebra finches.

Researchers found birds expressing strong personality traits, such as aggressive behaviour or a willingness to explore, did a much better job of raising young if they had a like-minded partner. Where were markedly different in personality, chicks didn't fare as well – being less well-fed and in poorer condition.

The research paper, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, isn't able to give a definitive reason for the parenting benefits of matched – but authors say it could be down to improved cooperation and coordination of effort.

Dr Sasha Dall, an author of the study and part of the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: "The personality differences we focused on with these birds reflected how they go about their daily lives.

"In the case of zebra finches, to be good you need to be able to coordinate your behaviour so that while one parent is searching for food, the other is feeding the chick. It's a lot easier to co-ordinate your behaviour if you're similar in the way you go about things."

For the study, researchers focused in on the 'personalities' of a group of . They were able to establish that some showed consistent patterns of behaviour, normally either reflected in different levels of aggressiveness or willingness to explore. Often the traits were combined, but some finches didn't demonstrate them at all.

Then couples were artificially paired together – with a selection of couples who were like-minded and some who had no common traits. When mated, eggs were swapped between nests in order to distinguish the advantages of genetic, as opposed to the behavioural compatibility of parents.

Experts then studied the animals while they were feeding their chicks, and monitored the progress of hatchlings to see which couples were doing the best job as parents.

Dr Nick Royle, another author on the study, said: "We found that if birds were highly exploratory and their partners shared that trait, their offspring were in really good condition. It was the same for highly aggressive birds. If only one parent showed the trait, the chicks fared less well.

"Our study ruled out the idea that this was due to genetic compatibility, so this could only be due to the behavioural compatibility of the individuals while they were raising offspring."

Explore further: Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Studies suggest males have more personality

Nov 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Males have more pronounced personalities than females across a range of species - from humans to house sparrows - according to new research. Consistent personality traits, such as aggression ...

'Nervous' birds take more risks

Oct 26, 2007

Scientists have shown that birds with higher stress levels adopt bolder behaviour than their normally more relaxed peers in stressful situations. A University of Exeter research team studied zebra finches, which had been ...

Cuckoo chicks in Zebra finches

Apr 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some female zebra finches foist a part of their eggs on their neighbours. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen discovered that in every fifth nest there is one ...

Why some couples look alike

Feb 11, 2006

Facial characteristics can be indicative of personality traits and may be why some couples may look similar, says a University of Liverpool study.

Infidelity pays off for female Gouldian finches

Aug 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Females in socially monogamous bird species such as finches often engage in sexual activities with birds outside the pair bond. This is known to benefit males if they produce more offspring, ...

Mother knows best -- even before birth

Mar 11, 2010

Mother birds communicate with their developing chicks before they even hatch by leaving them messages in the egg, new research by a team from the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, has found.

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

5 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

8 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

8 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...