By Michael Mountain
A new study of captive chimpanzees concludes that the personality traits of chimpanzees are almost identical to those of humans.
I asked psychologist Sam Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin what’s been learned from the study. Prof. Gosling didn’t take part in this particular research, but, as one of the first people to study personality in nonhuman animals, he has perhaps the best overview of personality in all kinds of animals, both human and nonhuman.
The authors of the new study, conducted at at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, identified five basic personality factors that combine differently in each individual chimpanzee: Dominance, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Intellect. This echoes the well-known Big Five model of the human personality, also known as the OCEAN model.
Michael Mountain: What do you mean when you talk about the various dimensions of personality?
Sam Gosling: When we talk about personality, we ask first how many personality dimensions there are. [Psychologist\ Hans Eysenck once said there are three main dimensions to human personality: the introversion-extraversion domain; the neuroticism domain; [and a psychoticism domain\. You may also have heard of the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which says that humans can vary along each of four basic dimensions.
Most of the work in scientific psychology has settled on the idea that there are five dimensions – the Big Five or OCEAN model: your level of Openness to experience; your level of Conscientiousness; of Extraversion; of Agreeableness; and of Neuroticism.
So you have scores on all five dimensions, and you can be high, medium or low on each of these. And that’s what we mean by personality structure. We mean: How many dimensions are there? And how are they related to each other? The five main dimensions are generally unrelated to each other. So if I know your level of openness, that doesn’t mean I know anything at all about your level on any of the other four dimensions.
M.M.: So that makes for a very wide range of potential personality in any given person.
S.G.: Yes. And each of those dimensions is also very broad. When we talk about Extraversion, for example, this incorporates many other, narrower facets like your energy level, cheerfulness, gregariousness, talkativeness and dominance – those sorts of things, they’re all correlative, and so they all go to make up this broader domain of introversion-extraversion. And in general (but not always) those things like talkativeness and gregariousness tend to go together.
The Big Five model relates to broad patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It doesn’t include things like our values, our goals, our identity and so on. If someone has a goal in life to achieve salvation or to become very wise, or they see themselves as wanting to save the world or whatever, that’s not part of the Big Five. The Big Five is just looking at behavioral traits and cognitive and emotional patterns as indicators of your basic personality. More....