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March 1998 -- and Personality

Guppies Have Personalities Too

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

Budaev, S.V. (1997). "Personality" in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata): A correlational study of exploratory behavior and social tendency. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 111, 399-411.


Comparative Perspectives of Personality

Personality is used to describe what makes a person a unique individual. We use to concept of personality to indicate both how a person behaves and that this behavior is consistent across different situations. A shy person acts shy in a social setting and in the classroom. An aggressive person is aggressive both in sports and in social situations.

Caspi, Begg, Dickson, Harrington, Langley, Moffitt, and Silva (1997), summarized in the January, 1998, Research and Teaching Showcase, examined the long term stability of personality. In this Showcase article, Budaev (1997) identifies personality dimensions from individual differences in behavior and examines behavioral consistency across situations.

Budaev is a biologist who is interested in ethological and evolutionary perspectives of behavior. He studies behavior in interesting organisms, fish. In this study, he concentrates on the personality of guppies, a common freshwater fish and household pet.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

Article Summary

Comparative psychologists who study animal "personality" are not anthropomorphizing their subjects; rather they are interested in consistent ways in which animals behave in different situations. Budaev was interested in consistent individual differences in exploratory behavior and social tendencies -- personality -- of guppies.

Guppies are an interesting species to study. They swim in social groups and they face great danger from predators. What is the structure of these social groups, or schools, and how do they protect the members from predators? Guppies are also very interesting to study because researchers have found that different populations of guppies act quite differently.

The goal of Budaev's research was to identify personality traits associated with exploratory behavior and schooling, common guppy situations. He studied guppies from a stream near a water purification plant in Moscow. Because the water was quite cloud, he captured a number of male guppies to participate in the study.

Budaev used four situations to study exploratory behavior and schooling behavior. Each guppy participated individually in a number of sessions in each situation. All situations occurred in a large tank that could be divided into two or three sections. The four situations were:

  • Open Field Test. Budaev observed the guppy swimming freely in a large tank for 5 min.
  • Predator Inspection Test. Budaev placed the guppy in the tank at the opposite end from a divided off section behind which he placed a cichlid, a common predator of guppies. He then observed the guppy's behavior for 5 min.
  • Schooling Tendency Test. Budaev placed the guppy in the tank at the opposite end from a divided off section behind which he placed four other male guppies. The lone guppy was observed for 10 min.
  • Mirror Test. Budaev observed the guppy swimming in the large tank with a mirror attached to one end of the tank.

Budaev recorded a number of behaviors, including behaviors of move, freeze (remaining motionless at the bottom of the tank), stop (hanging motionless for a period in the middle level of the tank), escape (swimming rapidly away), and inspect (approaching and looking at another fish or himself in the mirror).

Budaev obtained two personality dimensions from detailed statistical analyses, Fear Avoidance and Approach. Fear Avoidance consisted of bold, approach behaviors versus fearful escape responses to novel situations, such as being in the same tank as a larger predatory fish. Approach consisted of active, sociable behaviors versus passive responses to schooling situations.

Personality dimensions similar to Fear Avoidance and Approach have been found in many other species and in humans. Budaev likened the guppy Fear Avoidance dimension to Neuroticism, a human personality trait associated with anxiousness and tension. He compared the guppy Approach dimension with Extroversion, a human personality trait associated with sociability and activity. Obviously a lot more research into the functions and genetics of these personality types is necessary in order to make comparisons between humans and guppies but the evolutionary implications are quite interesting.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

For Instructors

Links to the Lecture

How is personality and expression of adaptive behavior? Cats tend to have rather antisocial personalities but they are not social animals. Dogs have a wide range of personalities that reflect their social status. Have students reflect on their pet's personalities and how these stable behaviors relate to their intra-species and inter-species (including human) social status.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

For Students

About the Author

Sergey Budaev is in the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in the Department of General Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

About the Journal

The Journal of Comparative Psychology publishes research on the behavior, cognition, perception, and social relationships of different species. This journal has a very long history; check out some recent issues.

Links to Life

  • Fish and Their Personality
  • Do your fish have unique personalities? Here's a personal article on fish behavior and personality This article comes with background music.

  • Animal Personality Research Project
  • Fill out the pet personality survey to learn about your pet's personality and contribute to their research.

  • What About Your Personality?
  • These are some interesting personality tests, including extroversion, anxiety, and social anxiety. What kind of guppy would you be?

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