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Do observer assessments and experimental tests measure the same thing?

When evaluating animal personalities, should researchers rely on observer assessments or experimental tests?

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2 Answers
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Accepted answer

Hi Sophie, We published a paper on that exact question (which I guess you are probably referring to!), see http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00265-011-1263-6. The take-home-message was that yes, observer assessments (using ratings on a five-point scale) and field experiments (such as used in this study) both measured baboons' boldness/shyness similarly. However, there was a bit of catch: whilst observers were good at rating very shy and very bold individuals the agreement between the observer assessments and experimental tests wasn't so good for intermediate individuals. Ideally, researchers should try to use both approaches, however where that isn't possible then our results suggested they should try to use a methods which measure personality on a continuous scale. (Having watched Alecia do the experimental tests for this paper I can tell you they involve a lot of time and effort - though produce great data!)

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Thanks! Does it imply that researchers should first, evaluate animal personalities in order to categorize them and then, evaluate how animals solve the tasks?

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That's a tricky one, but, no, not necessarily. In this study, one of our measures of boldness was the first stage of a social learning experiment: we had to know which ones were bold enough to eat a novel food to demonstrate to shyer individuals how to do it. For our other experiment, we weren't limited in this way, and we could test the baboons' social learning abilities before we evaluated their personality.

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Accepted answer

Yes, they do measure similar things! Our baboon observers are really good at rating the baboons' boldness and they can predict whether a baboon will be bold in an personality test or not, without ever seeing the test. But I recommend that researchers use both (or more) methods to measure personality in order to have what psychologists call "convergent validity" for a personality trait. This basically means that researchers can be more confident that they're actually measuring what they set out to measure, and aren't accidentally measuring a different personality trait (a mistake that I have also made myself with the baboons).

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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