Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 153–160 | Cite as

Evaluating animal personalities: do observer assessments and experimental tests measure the same thing?

  • Alecia J. CarterEmail author
  • Harry H. Marshall
  • Robert Heinsohn
  • Guy Cowlishaw
Original Paper


The animal personality literature uses three approaches to assess personality. However, two of these methods, personality ratings and experimentation, have been little compared in captivity and never compared in the wild. We assessed the boldness of wild chacma baboons Papio ursinus using both ratings and experimental methods. Boldness was experimentally assessed when individuals were presented with a novel food item during natural foraging. The boldness of the same individuals was rated on a five-point scale by experienced observers. The ratings and experimental assessments of boldness were found to correlate positively and in a linear fashion. When considered categorically the two approaches showed variable agreement depending on the number of categories assigned and the cut-off criteria adopted. We suggest that the variation between approaches arises because each method captures different aspects of personality; ratings consider personality in absolute terms (using predefined criteria) and multiple contexts, while experimental assessments consider personality in relative terms (using experimental scores relative to the population average) and in limited contexts. We encourage animal personality researchers to consider adopting both methodologies in future studies. We also propose that future studies restrict their analyses to continuous data, since the greatest comparability between methods was found with these data. However, if individuals must be categorised, we suggest that researchers either (a) analyse only those individuals categorised as bold or shy by both ratings and experimental approaches or, if these methods cannot be employed simultaneously, (b) do not use approach-specific criteria but choose a cut-off that can be compared by both approaches.


Behavioural syndromes Boldness Chacma baboon Personality 



We thank AfriKitty, Sicko, Birko, Titch, Gin-Gin, Peckers and Symie for spending enough time with the baboons to be able to assess their boldness. We are grateful to the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement for permission to work at Tsaobis Leopard Park, the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre for affiliation, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for research permission in Namibia. We confirm that we have adhered to the Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Behavioural Research and Teaching (Animal Behaviour 2006, 71:245–253). We are grateful to Jana Uher and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this ms. Financial support was provided by grants from the Leakey Foundation, the Animal Behavior Society (USA), the International Primatological Society, and the Explorer's Fund to AJC. AJC was supported by a Fenner School of Environment and Society scholarship and her life savings. HHM was supported by a NERC Open CASE scholarship and beer. This paper is a publication of the ZSL Institute of Zoology's Tsaobis Baboon Project.


  1. Bell AM (2005) Behavioural differences between individuals and two populations of stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). J Evol Biol 18:464–473PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergvall UA, Schpäers A, Kjellander P, Weiss A (2011) Personality and foraging decisions in fallow deer Dama dama. Anim Behav 81:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bremner-Harrison S, Prodohl PA, Elwood RW (2004) Behavioural trait assessment as a release criterion: boldness predicts early death in a reintroduction programme of captive-bred swift fox (Vulpes velox). Anim Conservat 7:313–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Campbell DT, Fiske DW (1959) Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait-multimethod matrix. Psychol Bull 56:81–105PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carere C, Drent PJ, Koolhas JM, Groothuis TGG (2005) Epigenetic effects on personality traits: early food provisioning and sibling competition. Behaviour 142:1329–1355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carlstead K, Mellen J, Kleiman DG (1999) Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in US zoos: I. Individual behavior profiles and their relationship to breeding success. Zoo Biol 18:17–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carter AJ, Goldizen AW, Tromp SA (2010) Agamas exhibit behavioural syndromes: bolder males bask more but may suffer higher predation. Behav Ecol 21:655–661. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arq036 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dinno A (2008) paran: Horn’s test of principal components/factorsGoogle Scholar
  9. Freeman HD, Gosling SD (2010) Personality in nonhuman primates: a review and evaluation of past research. Am J Primatol 72:653–671PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gosling SD (2001) From mice to men: what can we learn about personality from animal research? Psych Bull 127:45–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Horn JL (1965) A rationale and test for the number of factors In factor analysis. Psychometrika 30:179–85Google Scholar
  12. Huchard E, Alvergne A, Fejan D, Knapp LA, Cowlishaw G, Raymond M (2010) More than friends? Behavioural and genetic aspects of heterosexual associations in wild chacma baboons. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64:769–781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Itoh K (2002) Personality research with non-human primates: theoretical formulation and methods. Primates 43:249–261PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Konecna M, Lhota S, Weiss A, Urbanek T, Adamova T, Pluhacek J (2008) Personality in free-ranging hanuman langur (Semnopithecus entellus) males: subjective ratings and recorded behavior. J Comp Psych 122:379–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kurvers RHJM, Prins HHT, Wieren SE, van Oers K, van Nolet BA, Ydenberg RC (2010) The effect of personality on social foraging: shy barnacle geese scrounge more. Proc R Soc Lond B 277:601–608. doi: 101098/rspb20091474 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McDougall PT, Réale D, Sol D, Reader SM (2006) Wildlife conservation and animal management: causes and consequences of evolutionary change for captive reintroduced and wild populations. Anim Conservat 9:39–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McGuire MT, Raleigh MJ, Pollack DB (1994) Personality features in vervet monkeys: the effects of sex age social status and group composition. Am J Primatol 33:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nettle D, Penke L (2010) Personality: bridging the literatures from human psychology and behavioural ecology. Phil Trans R Soc B 365:4043–4050PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pederson AK, King JE, Landau VI (2005) Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) personality predicts behaviour. J Res Pers 39:534–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pinhiero J, Bates D, DebRoy S, Sarkar D, R Core team (2009) Nlme: linear and nonlinear mixed effects models R package version 31–96Google Scholar
  21. R Development Core Team (2009) R: a language and environment for statistical computing R Foundation for Statistical Computing Vienna Austria. http://wwwR-projectorg Accessed 23 March 2010
  22. Revelle W (2010) Psych: procedures for personality and psychological research R package version 1086Google Scholar
  23. Shrout PE, Fleiss JL (1979) Intraclass correlations: Uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychological Bulletin 86:420–428Google Scholar
  24. Sih A, Bell AM, Johnson JC, Ziemba RE (2004) Behavioral syndromes: an integrative overview. Quart Rev Biol 79:241–277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sinn DL, Gosling SD, Moltschaniwskyj NA (2008) Development of shy/bold behaviour in squid: context-specific phenotypes associated with developmental plasticity. Anim Behav 75:433–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Uher J (2008) Author's response: three methodological core issues of comparative personality research. Eur J Pers 22:475–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Uher J, Asendorpf JB (2008) Personality assessment in Great Apes: comparing ecologically valid behavior measures behavior ratings and adjective ratings. J Res Pers 42:821–838. doi: 101016/jjrp200710004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. van Oers K, Klunder M, Drent PJ (2005) Context dependence of personalities: risk-taking behavior in a social and non-social situation. Behav Ecol 21:655–661. doi: 101093/beheco/ari045 Google Scholar
  29. Vazire S, Gosling SD, Dickey AS, Schapiro SJ (2007) Measuring personality in nonhuman animals. In: Robins RW, Fraley RC, Krueger RF (eds) Handbook of research methods in personality psychology. The Guildford Press, New York, pp 190–206Google Scholar
  30. Weiss A, King JE, Hopkins WD (2007) A cross-setting study of chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) personality structure and development: zoological parks and Yerks National Primate Research Center. Am J Primatol 69:1264–1277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wielebnowski NC (1999) Behavioral differences as predictors of breeding status in captive cheetahs. Zoo Biol 18:335–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alecia J. Carter
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Harry H. Marshall
    • 2
    • 3
  • Robert Heinsohn
    • 1
  • Guy Cowlishaw
    • 2
  1. 1.The Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.The Institute of ZoologyZoological Society of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Division of BiologyImperial College LondonBerkshireUK

Personalised recommendations