Do you think nature or nurture is more important in shaping animal personalities?

I am asking whether animal personalities are formed mainly through an animals genes, having a large heritable component, or whether their environment shapes them, i.e. social and ecological factors.

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Really interesting question. My feeling is that, like many nature/nurture debates it is probably a combination of both. There is a lot of evidence that personality, and other behaviours, have an important heritable component. However, there's also a growing number of studies showing how an individuals' environment (social and/or ecological), particularly during their development, can alter personality and shape behaviour in the future. Interestingly this also includes pre-natal conditions (such as in the womb in mammals, including in humans). One interesting and related field (which I definitely do not have any expertise in!) is epigenetics. This is starting show that a parent's experiences can alter the way their genetic material is packaged (e.g. the amount and type of proteins used). These packaging changes can be passed to their offspring and influence many things including offspring behaviour.

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Ask me anything journal club

- on animal social behavior and Baboon personality

Who: Dr. Alecia Carter is a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. She is interested in animal personalities, and she is exploring the influence of personality in the use of social and personal information for decision-making. Dr. Harry Marshall is an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. He is interested in animal social behavior and how the costs and benefits of this vary between social group members under different environmental conditions.

What: Studying baboons in Namibia with the ZSL Institute of Zoology’s Tsaobis Baboon Project, the researchers examined how personality influenced whether baboons solved foraging tasks and whether they then showed others how to solve the tasks. The peer-reviewed results will be published on Tuesday, March 11, here at PeerJ.

Dr. Carter and Dr. Marshall will be answering your questions live, regarding their article on baboon personality, or any other topic of relevance to animal social behavior.

Image: Alecia Carter/Tsaobis Baboon Project, CC-BY

When: March 11, 2014 02:00 am PDT

Where: Ask me anything - on animal social behavior and Baboon personality