Evaluating animal personalities: do observer assessments and experimental tests measure the same thing?
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- Carter, A.J., Marshall, H.H., Heinsohn, R. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 153. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1263-6
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.