Animals Have Emotions and Personalities. (Zoology)

USA TODAY, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Animals Have Emotions and Personalities. (Zoology)


Cats, dogs, hyenas, and other animals have personality traits in much the same way humans do, according to Samuel D. Gosling, a University of Texas at Austin psychologist who is working toward developing a new field in animal personality. He believes the biological mechanisms underlying these behavioral traits are similar across species. "The idea that nonhuman animals have unique personalities stems from the evolutionary continuity that exists between humans and other species. Unfortunately, there is no unified body of research on animal personality. Some of the early pioneers of psychology studied personality in animals, and then the subject disappeared. I suspect that psychologists thought it didn't sound very scientific. Scientists have been reluctant to ascribe personality traits, thoughts, and emotions to animals, even though they readily accept that the anatomy and physiology of humans is similar to animals," Gosling points out.

Yet, there is no reason to believe that natural selection shapes only physical traits, Gosling maintains. "[Naturalist Charles] Darwin himself argued that emotions exist in nonhuman animals, and his evolutionary theory suggests that behavioral traits, including personality, can evolve in just the same way as fins, wings, and arms. We should realize that studying the personality of animals could help us understand a lot about human personality."

In studies involving dogs, cats, fish, ferrets, and spotted hyenas, to name a few, Gosling and his colleagues have discovered that certain characteristics of personality--particularly extroversion and emotional stability--are evident in animals as low on the phylogenetic scale as guppies and octopuses. …

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