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Animal Personality: From bold crabs to neurotic chimps, animals have different personalities, like us. Why?

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Professor Adam Hart explores the newest area in the science of animal behaviour – the study of personality within species as diverse as chimpanzees, song birds, sharks and sea anenomes. What can this fresh field of zoology tells us about the variety of personality among humans?

We are all familiar with the variety of temperament and character in the dog, Canis lupus familiaris, but this is the product of selective breeding by humans over generations. A more surprising revelation is that up and down the animal kingdom, Nature favours a mix of personality types within a species. Oxford ornithologists working in Wytham Woods have discovered that in a small bird species such as the great tit, both bold and shy individuals prosper in different ways.

The same applies to hermit crabs and sea anemones in the rock pools along the South Devon coast. In these creatures, Dr Mark Briffa sees a stripped-down equivalent of the extraversion-intraversion dimension of human personality.

In sharks, researchers have discovered that there are sociable individuals and others who prefer their own company.

At the University of Exeter, an experiment with a smaller fish species, the guppy, suggests that a mix of personality types in a population favours the prospects of both the group and individual members of that group. A similar finding in great tits has come out of the woods at Wytham.

Adam Hart asks how relevant the recent discoveries in animal personality research are to understanding the nature and evolution of personality in people.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Picture: A great tit in a nest, Credit: Nicole Milligan

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