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

January 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: Why some couples look alike

Related Stories

Why some couples look alike

February 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.

'Nervous' birds take more risks

October 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 ...

Studies suggest males have more personality

November 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 and daring, are ...

Mother knows best -- even before birth

March 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.

Cuckoo chicks in Zebra finches

April 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 egg that is not ...

Infidelity pays off for female Gouldian finches

August 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, but until now ...

Recommended for you

Huddling rats behave as a 'super-organism'

September 3, 2015

Rodents huddle together when it is cold, they separate when it is warm, and at moderate temperatures they cycle between the warm center and the cold edges of the group. In a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology, ...

Fighting explosives pollution with plants

September 3, 2015

Biologists at the University of York have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.