Chimpanzees have five universal personality dimensions

June 3, 2013
Image: Wikipedia.

While psychologists have long debated the core personality dimensions that define humanity, primate researchers have been working to uncover the defining personality traits for humankind's closest living relative, the chimpanzee. New research, published in the June 3 issue of American Journal of Primatology provides strong support for the universal existence of five personality dimensions in chimpanzees: reactivity/undependability, dominance, openness, extraversion and agreeableness with a possible sixth factor, methodical, needing further investigation.

"Understanding chimpanzee has important theoretical and practical implications," explained lead author Hani Freeman, postdoctoral fellow with the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo. "From an academic standpoint, the findings can inform investigations into the evolution of personality. From a practical standpoint, caretakers of living in zoos or elsewhere can now tailor individualized care based on each animal's personality thereby improving ."

The study of chimpanzee personality is not novel; however, according to the authors, previous instruments designed to measure personality left a number of vital questions unanswered.

"Some personality scales used for chimpanzees were originally designed for another species. These 'top-down' approaches are susceptible to including traits that are not relevant for chimps, or fail to include all the relevant aspects of chimpanzee personality," explained Freeman. "Another tactic, called a 'bottom-up' approach, derives traits specifically for chimpanzees without taking into account information from previous scales. This approach also has limitations as it impedes comparisons with findings in other studies and other species, which is essential if you want to use research on chimpanzees to better understand the evolution of human ."

To address the limitations of each approach and gain a better understanding of chimpanzee personality, the authors developed a new personality rating scale that incorporated the strengths of both types of scales. This new scale consisted of 41 behavioral descriptors including boldness, jealousy, friendliness and stinginess amongst others. Seventeen raters who work closely and directly with chimpanzees used the scale to assess 99 chimpanzees in their care at the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop, Texas.

The chimpanzees rated were aged 8 to 48, a majority had been captive born and mother-raised, and all had lived at the facility for at least two years.

To validate their findings, the researchers used two years worth of behavioral data collected on the chimpanzees. As the authors expected, the findings showed the personality ratings were associated with differences in how the chimpanzees behaved. The researchers also showed the raters tended to agree in their independent judgments of chimpanzees' personalities, suggesting the raters were not merely projecting traits onto the chimpanzees.

Researchers suggest that one benefit to having the chimpanzees rated on the five core is that this information can now be used to make predictions that will help in their management, such as how individual chimpanzees will behave in various social situations. This type of information will help zoos better anticipate certain behaviors from various individuals, and will assist them in providing individualized care.

Explore further: New research suggests apes have human-like personalities

Related Stories

New research suggests apes have human-like personalities

May 28, 2012

(Phys.org) -- For as long as people have coexisted with other animals, they have debated amongst themselves whether some animals have some of the same personality traits as humans or if it’s just anthropomorphism at ...

Scientists complete Bonobo genome

June 13, 2012

In a project led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, an international team of scientists has completed the sequencing and analysis of the genome of the last great ape, the bonobo. Bonobos, ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

unconvinced
not rated yet Jun 03, 2013
Why don't they just ask Jane Goodall questions instead of relying on data from captive born chimps studied only 2 years?

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.