Sunday, January 22, 2006

Angry octopi, laughing rats: animal personality studies

"Does one duck behave consistently differently from another duck, over time and across situations? If so, why doesn't that meet the definition of personality as we apply it to ourselves, regardless of the presence or absence of self-awareness?" In NYT Magazine this morning: "The Animal Self." Favorite quote:
"Of course, we still have to be suspicious. People will also rate the personality of a loaf of bread or a car. A colleague has poked fun at me about that: 'A temperamental car is difficult to start across time and situations. So why isn't that personality?' Well, the fundamental difference, of course, is that with an animal there is an underlying physiology and biology. Saying my car is temperamental is an analogy. And some people will rate dogs not only as friendly or fearful but as philosophical. Now, I do not believe dogs are philosophical, whereas I do believe in their fearfulness. So we have to be careful where to draw the line between what's reality and what's analogy."


Blogger Bardiac said...

Alas, I can't read the article (because I'm too lazy to register and too lazy to go to one of those sites with a bazillion registrations), but it's interesting to think about the question they're asking as a question: what assumptions does the question imply?

First, the question implies that there's a huge, essential difference between humans and other species of animals (and even my sentence structure replicates that logic, alas). Instead of seeing humans as an animal species typified by certain characteristics, usually including a big if underused brain, it starts by seeing similarities between humans and other animals as surprising.

Second, it assumes that "humans" and characteristics of "personality" are essential. That's something historians and anthropologists take issue with.

Thought provoking stuff!

12:35 PM  
Blogger Fallen Angels said...

I have two cats, very different from each other. One is an insistent lap cat who gets upset if said lap decides to move. She doesn't like anyone but my partner and myself for the most part. She tolerates some but a hiss or swift swipe of the paw is forthcoming if someone invades her space. The other is kind of "ditsy"...and obstinant. You have to tell her no at least 10 times before she stops whatever activity (other cat it's only once), she then waits until you have sat down again and gotten comfortable then immediately starts the activity again. She hates being held or being on laps, but will sleep on my bed and no amount of tossing, turning, getting up and down or jostling her upsets her in any way. She rarely hisses and never tries to scratch in anger/defense (there are occasional play time accidents). Can they philosophize? I highly doubt it. Does this indicate personality? It does to me! :)


10:28 AM  

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