Monday, June 04, 2007

Evolution of human and animal personalities

Here is another editor's summary, and a PDF of the review by Bell of the work by Wolf et al. is here.
Although 'personalities' such as boldness, aggressive behaviour and risk avoidance have been shown to exist in more than sixty animal species, from primates to ants, explaining their existence in terms of evolution has been a puzzle. Surely, evolution should not favour the maintenance of different personalities, but rather the convergence towards a single one. In a numerical life-history model, Wolf et al. show that the evolution of animal personalities, defined as consistent sets of behaviours shown in a variety of contexts, is related to an adaptive response to life-history trade-offs. In this model, decisions on trade-offs between current and future reproduction condition the response of individuals to risky situations, and this may be the basis for animal personalities and their maintenance in populations.
In Wolf et al.'s model (from their abstract)
...some individuals put more emphasis on future fitness returns than others. Life-history theory predicts that such differences in fitness expectations should result in systematic differences in risk-taking behaviour. Individuals with high future expectations (who have much to lose) should be more risk-averse than individuals with low expectations. This applies to all kinds of risky situations, so individuals should consistently differ in their behaviour. By means of an evolutionary model we demonstrate that this basic principle results in the evolution of animal personalities. It simultaneously explains the coexistence of behavioural types, the consistency of behaviour through time and the structure of behavioural correlations across contexts. Moreover, it explains the common finding that explorative behaviour and risk-related traits like boldness and aggressiveness are common characteristics of animal personalities.

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