Tag Archives: personality

Each one of us falls into one of three information-seeking ‘personalities’

Knowing what people want to know, and why, can go a long way towards designing public information campaigns. However, it’s easier said than done. New research comes to shed some light on the topic, reporting on the criteria people rely on when deciding to get informed on a topic, or not.

Image via Pixabay.

According to the findings, at least in matters regarding to their health, finances, and personal traits, people, in general, rely on one of three criteria: the emotional reaction they assume they will have when presented with that information, how useful they consider said information will be to them, and whether or not it pertains to something that they think about often. The team says each person falls into one of these three “information-seeking types”, and that they don’t tend to change them over time.

Knowing, why?

“Vast amounts of information are now available to individuals. This includes everything from information about your genetic make-up to information about social issues and the economy. We wanted to find out: how do people decide what they want to know?” says Professor Tali Sharot from the University College London (UCL) Psychology & Language Sciences, co-lead author of the study. “And why do some people actively seek out information, for example about COVID vaccines, financial inequality and climate change, and others don’t?”

“The information people decide to expose themselves to has important consequences for their health, finance and relationships. By better understanding why people choose to get informed, we could develop ways to convince people to educate themselves.”

The study pools together data the researchers obtained over the course of five experiments with 543 research participants.

In one of the experiments, participants were asked to rate how much they would like to know about a certain topic related to their health — for example, whether they had a gene that put them at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or one that strengthened their immune system. Another experiment followed the same pattern but substituted financial information (for example, what income percentile they fall into) in lieu of personal health. A third asked them to rate how much they would like to know where their family and friends rated them on personal traits such as intelligence or laziness.

Later on, they were asked how useful they thought the information would be, how they expected to feel upon receiving the info, and how often they thought about the subject matter of each experiment.

Based on their responses during these five experiments, the team explains that people tend to seek out information based predominantly on one of the three factors — expected utility, emotional impact, and relevance to their interests. They add that the three-factor model they establish could be used to more accurately predict a participant’s choices to seek or refuse information compared to a range of other models they tested.

Some of the participants also repeated this series of experiments several times, at intervals of a few months. Based on their responses over time, the team explains that people tend to routinely prioritize one of the three motives over the others, and they tend to stick to that one motive over time and across topics. This, they argue, suggests that our motivators in this regard are ‘trait-like’.

These traits do have a direct impact on our lives; the first, obviously, is that they drive us towards and away from certain topics and pieces of data. But they also have a bearing on our wellbeing. In two of the five experiments, participants were also asked to fill in a questionnaire that estimated their general mental health. The team explains that participants who wanted to know more about traits they often thought about showed more signs of positive mental health when seeking out information about their own traits.

“By understanding people’s motivations to seek information, policy makers may be able to increase the likelihood that people will engage with and benefit from vital information. For example, if policy makers highlight the potential usefulness of their message and the positive feelings that it may elicit, they may improve the effectiveness of their message,” says PhD student Christopher Kelly from UCL Psychology & Language Sciences a, co-lead author of the study.

“The research can also help policy makers decide whether information, for instance on food labels, needs to be disclosed, by describing how to fully assess the impact of information on welfare. At the moment policy-makers overlook the impact of information on people’s emotions or ability to understand the world around them, and focus only on whether information can guide decisions.”

The paper “Individual differences in information-seeking” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Understanding squirrel personalities can help us better protect endangered species

Do animals have personalities? We don’t tend to think that they do, but new research brings more evidence that we’ve been too hasty to assume this.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel at a camp-site in Prineville Reservoir State Park, Oregon, USA. Image via Wikimedia.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have produced the first evidence of personality in golden-mantled ground squirrels (Callospermophilus lateralis), a species whose range includes the western U.S. and certain areas of Canada. While we most likely can’t talk about personalities with the same complexity as those seen in humans, the team explains that at least four main traits — boldness, aggressiveness, sociability, and activity levels — differ among individual squirrels, shaping the way each one interacts with their peers and environment.

Little personalities

“This adds to the small but growing number of studies showing that individuals matter,” said lead author Jaclyn Aliperti, who conducted the study while earning her Ph.D. in ecology at UC Davis. “Accounting for personality in wildlife management may be especially important when predicting wildlife responses to new conditions, such as changes or destruction of habitat due to human activity.”

The species itself is not currently considered threatened from a conservation standpoint, but the findings have value in helping us better protect others that are. The field of animal personality is still young, the team explains, and so is the understanding that these personalities have very real implications for ecological and conservation efforts. How individual animals interact with their environment, their peers, the ways in which they use available space, and feed, are all tied into their particular personalities.

The findings were made possible by research that has been performed at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, over the last three decades. For the study, Aliperti and her team used data gathered during these last 30 years, as well as results from experiments they performed with squirrels at the site during the last three years.

Although the study of animal personalities is still in its infancy, there are standardized approaches we can employ to investigate individual critters, the authors explain. In broad lines, they employed four types of tests during their experiments. These were ‘novel environment’ tests, where squirrels are placed in an enclosed box with holes and gridded lines; the ‘mirror’ tests, where squirrels are presented with their mirror image (which they do not recognize as being themselves); the ‘flight initiative’ tests, during which the squirrels are approached slowly in the wild, to check how long they wait before fleeing; and the ‘behavior-in-trap’ tests, where squirrels are caught in a simple and non-dangerous trap, and their initial behavior is recorded.

Beyond ascertaining that different squirrels will, in fact, have different responses or performances during these tests, they were also able to link differences in personality to particular behaviors. For example, bold and active squirrels moved faster than their peers. But squirrels that were bold, active, and more aggressive had an overall better command of their territory — they had higher levels of access to perches (vantage points). This type of access is very important for squirrels, as it allows them to better monitor their surroundings for predators, translating directly into safety.

But this was not the only combination of traits that correlated with greater perch access. More social squirrels also had greater access to these spots compared to their peers.

This is particularly interesting as golden-mantled ground squirrels are considered to be an asocial species. They are small and live short lives, relative to other species of ground squirrels, so they only have limited time to spend with their family units before adulthood, when they move to their own territories. That being said, the team notes that individuals who are more sociable tend to have an advantage over their peers. Being more social, in this particular case, can improve an individual’s chances of survival (through increased perch access). This would improve their chances of reproducing, thus forming a comparative advantage.

“Animal personality is a hard science, but if it makes you relate to animals more, maybe people will be more interested in conserving them,” said Aliperti. “I view [the squirrels] more as individuals. I view them as, ‘Who are you? Where are you going? What are you up to?’ versus on a species level.”

This isn’t the first sign that animals can have unique personalities, although it is the first time it has been reported in squirrels. Cetaceans, fish, chimpanzees, and even spiders have shown they can and do develop personalities. All this (growing) body of evidence points to the fact that the animals around us aren’t simple beasts, and efforts to protect endangered species should take this into account. Individual animals will react to any measures designed to protect them according to their personal traits, so understanding these would definitely help us implement better conservation strategies.

The paper “Bridging animal personality with space use and resource use in a free-ranging population of an asocial ground squirrel” has been published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Fish motions could help us identify their personalities

New research says that you can, in fact, judge a fish by their cover. Or at least by the way they swim.

The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Image credits Gilles San Martin.

A research team with members from Swansea University and the University of Essex reports that the subtle differences in how each fish moves around can be used to determine its overall personality. We still don’t know if the findings translate to humans, or if such an approach can be reliable over the long term, but it’s an interesting place to start from.

A bat of the fins

“These micropersonalities [motions] in fish are like signatures — different and unique to an individual,” explains Dr Ines Fürtbauer, a co-author of the study from Swansea University. “We found the fish’s signatures were the same when we made simple changes to the fish tanks, such as adding additional plants.”

We know that the animal kingdom is quite rich with personality types, in species ranging from ants to apes. Quite like you’d see in humans, animals can be shy, energic, bold, or sedentary. The current paper shows that the same is true with fish.

However, something new that the researchers have found is that we can look at the tiny idiosyncrasies of how fish swim around to learn more about their personality. They recorded 15 three-spined stickleback fish as they went about their day in a tank with two, three, or five plastic plants, in fixed positions. Later, high-resolution tracking was used to chart their movements. The team used this to measure different parameters for every individual including how often they turned and how often they stopped and started moving.

Each fish had distinct and very repeatable movement patterns, so much so that the team could reliably identify the animals based on how they moved. The authors also note that there is a correlation between behavior and movement patterns. Fish which spent more time moving, took more direct approaches, and didn’t “burst travel” very often tended to travel and explore more of the tank, and were also more likely to spend time in open water.

“Our work suggests that simple movement parameters can be viewed as micropersonality traits that give rise to extensive consistent individual differences in behaviors,” says Dr Andrew King from Swansea University, lead author.

“This is significant because it suggests we might be able to quantify personality differences in wild animals as long as we can get fine-scale information on how they are moving; and these types of data are becoming more common with advances in animal tracking technologies.”

It’s not to say that these patterns remain constant, however. The team used a static layout in the experimental tank, and only observed the fish for a short time. We also don’t know if changes in the environment would change their movement patterns or behavior. As such, the next step should be to observe animals’ motion “over longer periods and in the wild will give us this sort of insight and help us better understand not only personality but also how flexible an animal’s behavior is.”

However, it is possible these signatures change gradually over an animal’s lifetime, or abruptly if an animal encounters something new or unexpected in its environment. Tracking animals’ motion over longer periods — in the lab and in the wild — will give us this sort of insight and help us better understand not only personality but also how flexible an animal’s behavior is,” says Dr Ines Fürtbauer, a co-author of the study from Swansea University.

The paper ““Micropersonality” traits and their implications for behavioral and movement ecology research” has been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

People on dating apps are more likely to exhibit dark personality traits

According to a new study, people on dating apps are more likely to be self-obsessed and manipulative than the general public — which fits very well with previous research.

The unattractive side of dating apps

With the advent of smartphones and our always busier lives, the dating scene has change considerably in the past decade; or at least, a part of it has.

Dating apps have become common in many parts of the world, and dating on an app isn’t the same as doing it the old-fashioned way. For starters, you can reach numerous potential partners, but you have limited ways to grab their attention. Simply put, you need to play the market to increase your chances of being successful, and in this context, playing the market often goes hand in hand with traits such as narcissism, a new study concludes.

A team of researchers from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, analyzed how so-called bright, dark, and neutral personality traits correlate with dating app usage. They found that dark traits such as narcissism and Machiavelism (a scheming, self-interested attitude) are indicative of a person’s app usage much more than neutral traits such as openness or extraversion or bright traits like empathy.

They had 555 German volunteers use 3 popular dating apps for three weeks, tracing the time they spent on these apps. The volunteers were then asked to fill personality quizzes to see how different personality traits correlated with the time spent on the apps. Overall, narcissism was the strongest predictor of whether someone used an online dating app, while Machiavellianism was the best predictor of average daily usage — not exactly an attractive picture.

The silver lining was that “love” was the strongest motive for using the app, closely followed by “sex”. The relationship status was not considered in the study.

Not surprising

While this was a relatively small and localized study, it falls in line very well with previous research. For instance, a 2019 study from Australia found that “men who were Tinder users were especially high in psychopathy and narcissism” and “women who were Tinder users were especially high in anxious attachment”. A separate study from the same year concluded that Tinder users had higher scores on the Dark Triad traits.

As dating apps become more and more prevalent, researchers are increasingly looking at their effect on mental health. A recent 2016 study found that using dating apps tends to lower self-esteem, and if dating apps are fertile ground for noxious personality traits, it could explain why.

The study has been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Couple.

You do have a type when it comes to dating, study finds

People do have a ‘type’ when it comes to dating, a new study reports.

Couple.

Image via Pixabay.

If you’ve ever come out of a bad relationship hell-bent on dating outside your type, you’re not alone — but you’re also not in luck, according to social psychologists at the University of Toronto (U of T). They report that people tend to pick the same type of person over and over again as romantic partners, no matter what our experience with former partners was.

Typical

“It’s common that when a relationship ends, people attribute the breakup to their ex-partner’s personality and decide they need to date a different type of person,” says lead author Yoobin Park, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T.

“Our research suggests there’s a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality.”

The team used data from the German Family Panel (GFP) study launched in 2008, a multi-year study that looked at couples and families across several age intervals. The GFP is an ongoing longitudinal study on couple and family dynamics with a nationally representative sample of adolescents, young adults, and midlife individuals in Germany.

Using this data, Park and his co-author Geoff MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Psychology at U of T, compared the personalities of current and former partners of 332 participants, to see if they could spot a pattern. They could; the team reports finding a ‘significant consistency’ in the personalities of each participant’s romantic partners.

“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” says Park.

Participants in the study, along with a number of their current and past partners, were asked to assess their own personality in regards to the ‘big 5′ personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. This process involved them rating how much they identified with statements such as “I am usually modest and reserved,” “I am interested in many different kinds of things” and “I make plans and carry them out” on a five-point scale.

Overall, the authors say, the current partners of those involved in the study described themselves in ways that were similar to how those participants’ past partners described themselves. The team worked with first-person testimonials of each participant’s partners (current or former) rather than on the participant’s description of them in order to account for various biases that other studies found.

“The degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a ‘type’,” says MacDonald. “And though our data do not make clear why people’s partners exhibit similar personalities, it is noteworthy that we found partner similarity above and beyond similarity to oneself.”

“Our study was particularly rigorous because we didn’t just rely on one person recalling their various partners’ personalities,” said Park. “We had reports from the partners themselves in real time.”

The authors say that the findings should help couples out there be happy and keep their relationships healthy. People learn strategies to accommodate their partners’ personalities during each relationship, they explain, and engaging with similar partners may let us carry over some of those skills to a new relationship. Park notes that this “might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.” On the other hand, some of these strategies we develop can also be negative. All in all, we need more research to determine exactly where the benefits of dating someone who’s like your ex-partner end and where the disadvantages begin.

“So, if you find you’re having the same issues in relationship after relationship,” says Park, “you may want to think about how gravitating toward the same personality traits in a partner is contributing to the consistency in your problems.”

The paper ” Consistency between individuals’ past and current romantic partners’ own reports of their personalities” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Great tits.

Different personalities help species face and adapt to threats, environmental changes

Personality may be adaptability’s trump card.

Great tits.

A pair of great tits (the bird).
Image via Pixabay.

Researchers at LMU Munich say that differences in personality could be a kind of insurance policy on the part of evolution. Different personalities, they report in a new paper, help maintain the level of biological variation needed to keep whole populations healthy and thriving.

Birds of a feather

The team focused their study on great tits (Parus major). The birds show some level of adaptability to environmental change, most notably through flexibility in choosing when to rear their chicks. High temperatures tend to make them build their nests and lay eggs earlier in the year, while colder temperatures make them put the whole matter off until the weather improves.

Natural selection favors such behavioral adaptability, the team explains, as long as the genetic variation is available — i.e. as long as the right genetic variants encoding reproductive behavior are present in the population, the birds will decide for themselves when is best to lay eggs, since that increases the chances their chicks will survive.

Personality is, at least in part, the source of this behavioral adaptability, the team reports. LMU behavioral biologist Niels Dingemanse and his doctoral student Robin Abbey-Lee have shown that the bolder among these birds lay their eggs earlier, when conditions allow it, while the shy ones wait for safe conditions, the team reports. In essence, their personalities allow them to interact with a threat (in this case, shifting weather) in different ways, which ensure that at least some members successfully rear their chicks.

The level of predation also has an influence on the timing and particularities of nesting behavior. The European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a major predator of great tits, the team explains, with fledglings and young tits being the most vulnerable.

Sparrowhawks brood at a time when new generations of tits reach the fledgling stage, to make sure there will be plenty of pickings to feed baby sparrowhawks with. Some great tits, according to the team, react by deferring breeding, to give their offspring a higher chance of survival. They will also become markedly more alert and sing less often as they hear the call of a hunting sparrowhawk.

“In previous studies, however, we found that not all birds display this reaction to the same degree,” says Dingemanse. “Different individuals exhibit different personalities, and some are more explorative, daring and more aggressive than others.”

The team looked into whether these personality differences actually translate into a meaningful variation in the timing of breeding at the population level. During the breeding season – from April to June – the researchers exposed birds in a total of 12 tit populations to either the recorded call of the sparrowhawk or the song of the harmless blackbird.

Under these two conditions, the team explains, character differences did have an impact on the timing of breeding. More daring birds generally tend to explore their local environments more eagerly and thus breed later. The ones spooked by the team, however, began breeding earlier than what’s usual for great tits. Shier birds behaved exactly the opposite way.

It’s interesting to note that in the end, both personality types achieved essentially the same level of breeding success, according to the authors. This suggests that variation in personality does contribute to keeping a population’s genetic variability at healthy levels.

“In this way, populations can also become more resilient in the face of anthropogenic alterations of their environments, such as climate change,” Dingemanse points out.

The paper “Adaptive individual variation in phenological responses to perceived predation levels” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Credit: Pixabay.

Killer whales display personality traits such as playfulness, cheerfulness and affection — just like humans or chimps

The orca (Orcinus orca), also known as the killer whale, has the second largest brain of all marine mammals. They have their own local dialects, coordinate each other in sophisticated hunting teams, teach one another specialized methods of hunting, and pass on behaviors that can persist for generations. These are really smart creatures, who are also extremely socially savvy. What’s more, according to a new study, orcas display distinct personality traits such as playfulness, cheerfulness, and affection, akin to chimps or even humans.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Researchers assessed the personalities of 24 captive orcas at  SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego and the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Spain. The animals’ trainers and other staff that worked closely with the killer whales had to complete surveys that ranked each animal on a list of 38 personality traits. The traits were analyzed and then compared with previous studies of the same personality traits for chimpanzees and humans.

“This is the first study to examine the personality traits of killer whales and how they relate to us and other primates,” lead researcher Yulán Úbeda, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Girona in Spain, said in a statement. “These similar personality traits may have developed because they were necessary to form complex social interactions in tightly knit groups that we see in killer whales, humans, and other primates.”

The psychologists measured personality traits with the ‘Big Five’ model, which describes personality across five dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. This simplified model describes personality traits using a combination of single adjectives and descriptive phrases.

The results suggest that killer whales have personality traits that are similar to both humans and chimpanzees, although they lean more towards chimps. Particularly, killer whales scored on par with chimps and humans for extraversion (e.g, playful, gregarious, sociable). Killer whales and chimps also shared personality traits for conscientiousness (e.g., constant, stubborn and protective) and agreeableness (e.g., patient, peaceable and not bullying).

Killer whales live in tightly knit social groups known as pods. Individuals hunt together, share food, and communicate using sophisticated language.  Remarkably, orcas — which are actually a species of dolphins found in all oceans, from the frigid Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas — can also imitate sounds from bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and even humans. The fact that orcas have personality is perhaps best illustrated by the heartbreaking case of a 20-year-old killer whale, known as J-35 or Tahlequah, who began pushing her dead newborn calf off the coast of Vancouver Island. The grieving mother kept the calf afloat for 17 days while swimming hundreds of miles. Other members of the pods helped the mother, even though this had hurt the pod’s ability to hunt. The behavior was recorded in July and gained international news coverage.

“It is unbelievably sad,” Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, told The Seattle Times. “It reflects the very strong bonds these animals have, and as a parent, you can only imagine what kinds of emotional stress these animals must be under, having these events happen.”

Scientists are not sure if killer whales really do feel grief — a complex emotion that’s difficult to gauge, although it may be present in species that live in tight-knit groups, such as chimpanzees, elephants, and giraffes.
“Some previous studies suggest that the mother’s contact with the lifeless body could be important for the mother to make a psychological adjustment to the death of her offspring,” Úbeda said. “In any case, those behaviors show how complex these animals are.”
The current study suggests that the personality traits of killer whales and primates evolved independently of one another, as a byproduct of the advanced cognitive abilities required for complex social interaction — essentially convergent evolution in action.
As a caveat, the study, which was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, was performed solely on captive orcas, which have altered personalities like increased neuroticism and aggression. To the authors’ merit, it’s incredibly challenging to assess the personality traits of killer whales in the wild. That being said, the findings do not necessarily reflect the personality traits of killer whales found in the wild.

We make snap judgements about someone’s personality based on their body shape

Credit: Pixabay.

First impressions are long-lasting but often times these snap judgments are very biased. For instance, a new study suggests that people make value-based judgments about a stranger’s personality based only on their bodies. A slimmer body is associated with active or positive personality traits (self-confident and enthusiastic), whereas a plumper body shape was associated with more passive or negative traits (lazy and careless).

“Our research shows that people infer a wide range of personality traits just by looking at the physical features of a particular body,” Ying Hu, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas and first author of the new study, said in a statement. “Stereotypes based on body shape can contribute to how we judge and interact with new acquaintances and strangers. Understanding these biases is important for considering how we form first impressions.”

Hu and colleagues digitally created 140 realistic-looking body models (70 female and 70 male) based on laser scans of actual human bodies. The 3-D renderings were generated using random values for 10 different body dimensions, so the psychologists had precise physical measurements of each type of body.

The renderings were shown to 76 undergrad students from two angles, who had to indicate which of 30 trait words appearing on the screen applied to that body. The words reflect dimensions of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits, which are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Some of these trait words can be classed as positive (‘enthusiastic’, ‘extraverted’, ‘dominant’) or negative (‘quiet’, ‘reserved’, ‘shy’).

When the researchers linked the results to the body shapes, they identified a trend whereby heavier bodies were associated with more negative traits and lighter bodies were linked to more positive traits. What’s more, male and female body shapes that fit stereotypical dimensions for attractiveness (broad shoulders for men and pear-shape for women) were associated with more active personality traits (quarrelsome or extraverted), whereas male and female body shapes that leaned towards rectangular shapes were associated with more passive traits (trustworthy, warm, dependable).

The researchers were even able to predict personality trait judgments based on various combinations of body shape features, they reported in Psychological Science. 

First impressions are highly influential, despite the well-worn admonition not to judge a book by its cover. One study showed that we form a judgement about the character of a person – whether that person is caring, trustworthy, aggressive, extrovert, competent and so on — within a tenth of a second of seeing an unfamiliar face. Once this snap judgment has been made, it’s surprisingly difficult to budge.

This is only the most recent study in a body of evidence that suggests appearance has great influence on social interactions and personality development. Another study, for instance, found that people use facial features to infer a stranger’s personality traits. The idea that a person’s character can be glimpsed in their face, a type of pseudoscience known as physiognomy, has, of course, no scientific basis to it, but that doesn’t stop most of us when it comes to forming first impressions.

Scientists describe the person who’s most likely to rise up against antisocial behavior: extrovert, confident, and altruistic

We all know that one annoying situation — someone’s music is too loud on the bus, someone’s littering, or just being an overall pain to everybody around. Most people just ignore the situation or just feel like they shouldn’t intervene. But every once in a while, someone does rise up and confront the situation. In a new study, researchers set out to map the traits of such people who challenge social injustice.

Image credits: William Franklin / Flickr.

Alexandrina Moisuc and her colleagues asked 1,100 volunteers from Austria and France to go through a series of hypothetical scenarios involving anti-social behavior such as someone tearing up posters, spitting on the pavement, or throwing used batteries into a flower pot in a shared yard — inflammatory, annoying, but fairly common scenarios. Participants’ options ranged from total inaction to sighing, to addressing the transgressor, mildly or aggressively. They were also asked to rate how morally outraged they felt about the incident, with stronger feelings correlating with a stronger desire to intervene. Participants were also asked to evaluate themselves, assessing their own personality traits.

Researchers were expecting the intervener profile to be the “Bitter Complainer” — a person with low self-esteem who uses hostility towards others to boost their own self-esteem. However, Moisuc found that these “bitter” components (traits associated with lashing out, such as aggressiveness, poor emotional regulation), had no relationship with stand up; they were actually slightly negatively correlated.

Instead, the factors associated with fighting social injustice were (thankfully) confidence, persistence, being good at regulating emotions, valuing altruism and being comfortable expressing opinions. People more inclined to rise up also tended to be more extrovert.

“So it wasn’t the bitter complainer, but rather the “Well-adjusted Leader” that would step in. Researchers write in the paper: Participants’ self‐reported tendency to confront perpetrators correlated positively with altruism, extraversion, social responsibility, acceptance by peers, independent self‐construal, emotion regulation, persistence, self‐directedness, age, occupation, and monthly salary, but not with aggressiveness or low self‐esteem. Individuals who confront prejudice also speak up against other immoral and uncivil behaviours.”

Of course, there are several limitations to the study. For starters, people only self-evaluated traits, which always brings a bit of uncertainty. In particular, in this case, people might react differently to their expectations, when put on the spot. Also, participants were young Europeans, the findings might not carry on for all cultures.

However, results are consistent with previous findings, and importantly, they raise an important question. We all want to be the hero of our life, we all want to be the good guy — but few of us really like to speak out when the situation calls for it.

Journal Reference: Alexandrina Moisuc Markus Brauer Anabel Fonseca Nadine Chaurand Tobias Greitemeyer. Individual differences in social control: Who ‘speaks up’ when witnessing uncivil, discriminatory, and immoral behaviours?. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12246

A chimpanzee photographed by Alexander Weiss during his 2010 visit to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Credit: Alexander Weiss.

Wild chimpanzees have remarkably stable personality traits

Scientists revisited wild chimpanzees in Tanzania after more than 40 years and found evidence of personality stability.

A chimpanzee photographed by Alexander Weiss during his 2010 visit to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Credit: Alexander Weiss.

A chimpanzee photographed by Alexander Weiss during his 2010 visit to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Credit: Alexander Weiss.

Humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor only six to eight million years ago. Along with bonobos (Pan paniscus), they’re our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Bearing this in mind, it’s not all that surprising to learn that chimps share many aspects of human conduct and evolution such as tool use, complex social hierarchies, cultural traits, but also inter-group violence.

Worn friends and old habits

In 1973, Buirski et al. described the personalities of 24 wild eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) living in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The chimps were rated on a personality questionnaire called the Emotions Profile Index (EPI), which assigns scores based on eight major predispositions: Trustful, Distrustful, Controlled, Dyscontrolled, Aggressive, Timid, Depressed and Gregarious.

Most of the EPI ratings were consistent across different researchers which suggests there was an underlying personality to each chimp’s behavior. The researchers were familiar with chimps for several months to several years.

The ratings showed that chimps could significantly differ in their behavioral patterns, with important implications for group hierarchy and organization. The researchers found differences in disposition between sexes, in some respects quite similar to the kind we see in humans. For instance, female chimpanzees were more Trustful than males while males were more Gregarious than females. Alpha male chimps were found to be more Aggressive and less Timid while the lower ranking males were more Dyscontrolled and more Timid. What’s more, some of the rated personalities could be off the charts, much to the surprise of scientists at the forefront of this pioneering 1970s work. One prime example was the case of a female named Passion who showed deviant personality traits. Researchers rated her as more Aggressive, Depressed, and Distrustful, and less Trustful, Timid, Controlled, and Gregarious. In later years, she, along with her daughter Pom, killed and ate four infants belonging to other females in the group.

A chimpanzee photographed by Alexander Weiss during his 2010 visit to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Credit: Alexander Weiss

A chimpanzee photographed by Alexander Weiss during his 2010 visit to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Credit: Alexander Weiss.

More than 40 years later, Alexander Weiss, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, returned to Gombe for the second systematic quantification of wild chimp personality traits. This new study went the extra mile and gauged the personality traits of 128 individuals using 24 different measures (such as excitable, sensitive, helpful, curious). The individuals in the study also included the 24 chimpanzees from the earlier study, Weiss told me.

“These ratings are continuous variables that indicate, for each chimpanzee, where they stand in comparison to other chimpanzees on a trait. We obtained ratings on 128 chimpanzees including individuals that were observed in detail while alive but who have since died. The present data therefore resemble ratings of the personalities of living and deceased historical figures by people who knew the individuals well, or by historians,” the authors wrote in the journal Scientific Data.

The population studied by the researchers exhibited a wide range of personality traits and behaviors, as Weiss recounted.

Dr Alexander Weiss. Credit: The University of Edinburgh.

Dr Alexander Weiss. Credit: The University of Edinburgh.

“My work for this paper chiefly involved meeting the field assistants and asking them to fill out the questionnaires, and sometimes answering questions via my interpreter. This, to me, was quite exciting because these field assistants were responsible for collecting amazing data on some of the most famous chimpanzees in the world, and they featured in Jane Goodall’s books. I also spent some time at Gombe, though, and just seeing chimpanzees in the wild was awe-inspiring. I witnessed some aggressive interactions between males in which the whole group got agitated, but also saw some juveniles playing, females with their infants, and behaviors that I had only read about or seen videos of, such as the branch clasp grooming display,” Weiss told ZME Science.

When Weiss and colleagues compared their results to those reported by Buirski et al. in 1973, the two lined up ‘surprisingly well’. This was despite the four decades-apart studies employed different questionnaires performed by different researchers.

“Our study collected data using a different questionnaire, one which has been used to study chimpanzees in zoos, research centers, and sanctuaries, and ratings were made by 18 Tanzanian field assistants,” Weiss told ZME science.

“We found evidence that ratings of similar traits in the earlier study were correlated with the ratings that we obtained. More importantly, however, the goal of this paper was to provide a resource that future researchers could use to learn more about the evolution of personality in chimpanzees and humans, too,” he added.

A unique window into the lives of our closest relatives

The personality ratings were made on a modified form of the Hominoid Personality Questionnaire (HPQ), which involved six personality dimensions rather than the eight dimensions employed in EPI. The HPQ dimensions are Dominance, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness, and Conscientiousness. Human personality is typically characterized by five dimensions or the ‘Big Five’ which involve all the aforementioned HPQ dimensions except Dominance.

The EPI and HPQ ratings had at least nine statistically significant correlations. For instance, EPI Aggressive and HPQ Neuroticism positively correlated, which is consistent with the fact that, in humans, the experience of anger and hostile emotions is a facet of Neuroticism. Likewise, the “positive association between EPI Gregarious and HPQ Extraversion is consistent with the fact that gregariousness defined high Extraversion” in previous studies. Gregariousness is a facet of human Extraversion.

There were also, however, some differences in correspondence between a few pairs of personality scales, though the results fit expectations for chimpanzees. For instance, there was a negative association between EPI Timid and HPQ Openness and a positive association between EPI Gregarious and HPQ Openness.

Despite some caveats, the correlations between the two ratings indicate the existence of stable personality traits in the population of Gombe chimpanzees. The dataset could prove insightful for other scientists seeking to understand the evolutionary cues that gave rise to personality traits in both humans and chimpanzees. Rare work such as the present study also provides a unique window into the lives of our species’ closest living relatives. Many chimp populations across Africa are threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and human diseases. By understanding how chimps ‘tick’ and that they’re not all that different in behavior from humans in many respects might thus help conservation efforts a great deal.

“I don’t think this is an original idea, namely as Jane Goodall has brought this up, but I think that one psychological obstacle to improving conservation efforts is that humans tend to think of different species of animals just as that, a species. Individual differences in behavior, emotional reactivity, and other tendencies, that is, the personalities of individuals, are lost in the process. The fact is, however, that chimpanzees very likely differ as much from one another as do we humans, and so losing chimpanzees would mean losing these wonderful individuals and individuals yet to come,” Weiss said.

A mock-up image showing a Trinidadian guppy (the small fish), a blue acara cichlid and a model of a heron. Credit: Copyright Tom Houslay, University of Exeter

Fish can have individual personalities too, new study says

Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata), also known as millionfish and rainbow fish, seem to have complex individual personalities. The finding was reported by a team at the University of Exeter, UK, who studied the fish — a favored pet for many Americans — in various situations only to discover many exhibited and retained complex behavior across these scenarios.

Credit: Finding Nemo (2003).

Credit: Finding Nemo (2003).

Guppies are one of the best vertebrate species for studying evolution in the wild, particularly on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies where you can find them in freshwater streams. These fish have a very short maturation period of only a couple of months and waterfall barriers in their habitat often lead to significant variations in behavior, life history, physiology, and appearance among populations. One 2004 study found guppies “from the downstream population responded more strongly to the aquatic predator than did fish from the upstream population,” highlighting “the importance of multiple selection pressures acting on an organism.”

Now, British researchers have shown in the journal Functional Ecology that not only do different populations exhibit varying behavior but also individual guppies.

Previously, scientists have tried to explain individual variance in behavior through the idea of a simple spectrum of how risk-averse or risk-prone guppies were. It didn’t take too long for Tom Houslay and colleagues at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC) to realize a ‘simple spectrum’ just wouldn’t cut it for the guppies. “Our research shows that the reality is much more complex,” Houslay said.

Some are braver than others

The team’s experiment involved introducing guppies to ‘mild stressors’. For instance, a mildly stressing situation for the guppies is individually introducing the fish in unfamiliar aquariums. Introducing models of predators triggered a higher stress.

When the fish were placed in an unfamiliar environment, the guppies employed varying coping strategies. “Many attempt to hide, others try to escape, some explore cautiously, and so on,” Houslay said.

A mock-up image showing a Trinidadian guppy (the small fish), a blue acara cichlid and a model of a heron. Credit: Copyright Tom Houslay, University of Exeter

A mock-up image showing a Trinidadian guppy (the small fish), a blue acara cichlid and a model of a heron. Credit: Copyright Tom Houslay, University of Exeter

The presence of the fake predators made all the guppies cautious overall — but even during such a stressing situation, individuals still retained their distinct personalities.

“The differences between them were consistent over time and in different situations. So, while the behaviour of all the guppies changed depending on the situation – for example, all becoming more cautious in more stressful situations – the relative differences between individuals remained intact,” Houslay said in a statement.

In 2014, researchers at the same University of Exeter found “sharks have distinct, individual personalities some being more friendly and open, thus willing to congregate in groups, while others are loners, much like human introverts.”

Next, the research will attempt to identify whether there are any genetic factors that underly these personality traits or to what extent the environment influences these traits.

“The goal is really gaining insight into evolutionary processes, how different behavioural strategies might persist as species evolve,” said Professor Alastair Wilson, also from the CEC at the University of Exeter.

The bottom line is many animals people commonly see as mindless drones — seen one, seen them all — can be very different on an individual basis.

Facebook smartphone.

Facebook: where relationship builders, town criers, window shoppers, and selfies come to chat

There are four categories of Facebook personalities, Brigham Young University research reveals.

Facebook smartphone.

Image credits Krzysztof Kamil.

Quick, try to recall the last day you’ve spent without logging into Facebook. Most of you probably can’t. And it’s not that we use the platform daily, but we also spend a lot of time once we’re there. Which begs the question: why do we like it so much?

“What is it about this social-media platform that has taken over the world?” asked lead author Tom Robinson. “Why are people so willing to put their lives on display? Nobody has ever really asked the question, ‘Why do you like this?'”

“Social media is so ingrained in everything we do right now,” Boyle said. “And most people don’t think about why they do it, but if people can recognize their habits, that at least creates awareness.”

To find out, the team compiled a list of 48 statements designed to gauge potential reasons why people visit the platform. Participants were asked to sort these statements in a way that they felt reflected their personal connection to the ideas and then rate them on a scale from “least like me” to “most like me”. After this step, the researchers sat down for an interview with each participant to get a better understanding of why they ranked and rated the way that they did.

Based on the responses, the team says there are four main reasons — translated into four categories — why people hang out on the book: they’re either relationship builders, town criers, window shoppers, or the ever-present selfies. So let’s see what each of them does.

The book of (four) faces

Relationship builders are those who use the platform closest to its indented role: as an extension of their real-life social activity. They post, respond to others’ posts and use additional features primarily to strengthen existing relationships, to interact virtually with real-life friends and family. This group identified strongly with statements such as “Facebook helps me to express love to my family and lets my family express love to me.”

Town criers show a much larger decoupling of their real and virtual life. They’re less concerned with sharing content (photos, stories, other information) about themselves, but will put a lot of effort into informing others of the current events — much like the town criers of yore. You’ll likely spot this group reposting ZME Science, event announcements, or wording their opinion on something they feel strongly about. Beyond that, they’re likely to neglect their profiles and will keep tabs on family and friends through other means.

Window shoppers also use Facebook but rarely post personal information. But in contrast to town criers, co-author Clark Callahan says, these users “want to see what other people are doing. It’s the social-media equivalent of people watching.” They identify with statements such as “I can freely look at the Facebook profile of someone I have a crush on and know their interests and relationship status.”

Stalking funny.

Lastly, the selfies. This group mostly uses Facebook (can you guess?) for self-promotion. Like relationship builders, they’re very energetic posters of content — but unlike them, they do so in an effort to garner likes, comments, and for attention in general. Their end goal, the team says, is to craft and present a social image of themselves “whether it’s accurate or not.” This category identified with the statements such as “The more ‘like’ notification alarms I receive, the more I feel approved by my peers.”

Previous research into social media has explored users falling in the relationship-builder and selfie groups, but the town criers and window shoppers were a novel (and unexpected) find.

“Nobody had really talked about these users before, but when we thought about it, they both made a lot of sense,” Robinson adds.

If you’ve been trying to decide which group you fall into, the authors point out that it’s rarely an exact fit, and you likely identify with more than one category to some degree.

“Everybody we’ve talked to will say, ‘I’m part of this and part of this, but I’m mostly this,'” said Robinson, who calls himself a relationship builder.

The paper “I ♥ FB: A Q-Methodology Analysis of Why People ‘Like’ Facebook” has been published in the International Journal of Virtual Communities and Social Networking.

 

Alcohol sociability.

Alcohol doesn’t change our personality as much as we blame it

Alcohol may change your personality less than we’d like to believe, a University of Missouri, St Louis has found. By comparing personal and outside observations of intoxicated people, the team reports that the differences are less drastic than those perceived by the drunk person.

Alcohol sociability.

A lot of people believe that alcohol turns you into a different person. You normally wouldn’t text your ex at 3 am, but you were drunk so you did it. You don’t dance — until you’ve had a drink to limber up, and so on. To an extent, this is recognized by professionals, and observing the systematic differences between one’s sober and drunken behaviors can guide specialists in determining whether that person has a drinking problem.

Drinking for science

The concept of a “drunk personality” is still very rickety from a scientific point of view. Subjectively and in hindsight, each and every one of us will say that yes, alcohol alters our personality and behavior — but there’s very little experimental evidence to prove or disprove the fact.

So a team from the University of Missouri, St. Louis Missouri Institute of Mental Health set out to find some answers — by getting people drunk. Specifically, they recruited 156 participants and took them to the lab to get hammered. The participants first completed a survey so the team could estimate their typical alcohol consumption and their perceptions of their “typically drunk” and “typically sober” personalities. They then gave a breathalyzer test, had height and weight measurements taken, formed groups of 3 or 4 people, and were sent to the lab.

Over the next 15 minutes, they were given beverages to drink — some participants received soft drinks, while others were given vodka-soda cocktails designed to produce a blood alcohol content of around .09. After the 15 minute imbibing period was over, the groups were asked to undertake a series of group activities (for example logic puzzles and discussion questions) aimed to elicit a range of behaviors and underlying personality traits.

The participants further completed two more personality measurements during the trials. Video recordings of their activity were supplied to outside observers who filled in standardized assessments of each individual’s personality traits.

One in five

The participants’ self-ratings showed a change in all the five major personality factors. Compared to their baseline results, they reported lower level of conscientiousness, openness to experience, and agreeableness after drinking, to go with higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability.

Alcohol socializing.

All of it leading to a limber tongue.

The observers, however, noted fewer differences between the sober and intoxicated personality traits. The only significant difference they noted was for extraversion. They tended to note participants who had consumed alcohol higher on three separate facets of this trait: gregariousness, assertiveness, and levels of activity.

Considering that extraversion is the most readily visible of the personality traits, it makes sense for both the observers and participants to pick up on the differences here, the researchers note. But they also say they can’t rule out other influences on the discrepancy between the reported and observed traits, particularly the participants’ own expectation of how drink would impact their personality — in a way, that they were seeing what they expected to see.

Naturally, most people don’t do their drinking in labs, so replicating the study in bars, at parties, or even home, in more natural drinking environments would be the best way to piece the last pieces of the puzzles. The team says their next step is to see how this work fits into the clinical realm as to “be effectively included in interventions to help reduce any negative impact of alcohol on peoples’ lives.”

The full article “An Experimental Investigation of Drunk Personality Using Self and Observer Reports” has been published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Your past teenage self might as well be a whole different person by the time you’re 77 years old, study says

A study which has been following Scottish teens since 1947 suggests personality can change immensely as we advance in age. According to the data gathered and analyzed by the University of Edinburgh, the subjects’ personality who first enrolled in the study, now 77 years old on average, looked nothing of the sorts as that of their 14-year-old former selves.

old age

Credit: Pixabay.

When the study was first started right after the war, 1,208 teenagers in Scotland aged 14 participated. Their teachers were asked to complete six different questionnaires about each pupil that were meant to assess six fundamental personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to excel. All of these criteria were then mashed into a single index known as  “denoted dependability.”

Seven decades later, researchers from the University of Edinburgh managed to track 635 of the original students and convinced 174 of them to have their personalities assessed once more. The participants were asked to rate themselves on the six personality traits, alongside friends and families who did the same as a measure of objective control. What’s more, their personality was assessed with more modern personality tests and scales, along with their mental health. Again, all of these results were pooled into the denoted dependability factor.

The researchers expected to see evidence of personality stability over the intervening 63 years since they were last tested but correlation did not support this hypothesis. Basically, there wasn’t any significant match between the two assessed personalities. It could have been the teachers’ subjectivity was in play but when the team ran a more complex model which took the teacher doing the rating into account, there was still no significant correlation between the assessed personalities.

“[T]here were no positive correlations strong enough to achieve significance between adolescent and older-age characteristic ratings or dependability,” the researchers wrote in the journal Psychology and Aging.

This is not the last word on the matter. Previously, research suggested a stability from childhood to middle age and then from the middle age to later in life. However, given the huge interval the Scottish researchers used for this study, it may very well be that personality traits can vary wildly the more you zoom out.

“As a result of this gradual change, personality can appear relatively stable over short intervals – increasingly so throughout adulthood. However, the longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be,” the researchers wrote. Our results suggest that, when the interval is increased to as much as 63 years, there is hardly any relationship at all.”

These results might sound like a breath of fresh air if you’re still having regrets over what you did in high school but nothing is quite certain for now. First of all, your personality might very well be very stable across your entire lifetime — that’s for a trained specialist to decide. Secondly, there are a number of caveats concernings the study’s design limitations that you should be aware of. It’s possible that if the participants had been assessed on a comprehensive, modern personality scale at age 14 and again at age 77, that we would see at least some correlation in scores. The small sample size is also a factor, too.

Even so, if you lived your life thinking ‘you were born that way and that’s who you are’ these findings should definitely be an eye opener. Personality is a far more flexible, despite genetic makeup and such.

Personality traits are “contagious among children” — especially good ones

When preschoolers hang out with each other, they tend to borrow each other’s personalities, but they prefer good traits over bad traits

Image credits: isakarakus / Pixabay

Our understanding of personality is still a work in progress. There’s an ongoing debate about how much of our personality is owed to genes and how much is owed to environmental factors. Now, a new study might lend some new weight to the latter. Researchers from the psychology department at Michigan State University studied two preschool classes for a whole school year, reporting that social networks and traits between the children become similar over time.

“Our finding, that personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, flies in the face of common assumptions that personality is ingrained and can’t be changed,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor of psychology and co-investigator on the study. “This is important because some personality traits can help children succeed in life, while others can hold them back.”

There’s a bit of good news around it too. Children whose play partners were hard working and extroverted took on these traits, while children whose play partners were overanxious and easily frustrated tended to be more resistant. This is the first study to show how likely children are to influence each other’s personality, and it’s also the first one to show that positive traits catch on more easily than negative ones. This might indicate an innate tendency to develop positive traits, but it’s just speculation at this point.

Emily Durbin, study co-investigator and associate professor of psychology, said kids are having a bigger effect on each other than people may realize. She believes that the role of the children’s peers in education has been significantly underestimated.

“Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive,” Emily Durbin, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “But this wasn’t their parents or their teachers affecting them — it was their friends. It turns out that 3- and 4-year-olds are being change agents.”

Journal Reference: Neal, Jennifer Watling; Durbin, C. Emily; Gornik, Allison E.; Lo, Sharon L. — Codevelopment of Preschoolers’ Temperament Traits and Social Play Networks Over an Entire School Year. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000135

Spider personalities are influenced by temperature

Although they might not be as unique as human personalities, animal personalities possess a fairly large variation in specific traits such as shyness and aggressiveness and scientists have long wondered why these differences exist and how they came to be. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill has discovered a connection between spider personalities and temperature changes, potentially bringing us closer to answering these questions.

Image credit Alex Wild

Image credit Alex Wild

The team examined the Anelosimus studiosus, also known as the tangle web spider, which inhabits North Carolina as well as numerous regions across North and South America. Among the spiders in this species, there are two distinct personality types: highly aggressive and docile. Typically, these two types share the same living space and co-exist to care for brood and capture prey.

The study looked at the effect of temperatures from -75 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit on the spiders’ ability to survive and reproduce individually within the colony. The results revealed that while aggressive spiders had a harder time surviving and reproducing at higher temperatures, docile spiders showed an opposing pattern: difficulty surviving and reproducing at lower temperatures.

Interestingly, when colony’s possessed a mix of the two spider personalities, these effects disappeared – aggressive spiders didn’t die off at higher temperatures and docile spiders didn’t die off at cooler temperatures

“Some aspect about living in a diverse society shields these aggressive spiders from selective pressures that would otherwise kill them,” said Spencer Ingley, a postdoctoral fellow at UNC College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study. “Without these diverse personalities, these spider societies would be more susceptible to extreme fluctuations in temperature – and it is interesting to think if our own society could benefit from diversity in a similar way.”

The results are particularly relevant in today’s times – with the planet’s climate projected to increase by three to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 and numerous studies linking global warming to the death of coral and megafauna, scientists are continuing to keep their eyes peeled for the many unique effects of our planet’s temperature increase.

“We live in a time of global change,” Ingley said. “Scientists are seeing that these changes can have a huge impact on individual organisms and groups of organisms. But people have rarely looked at personalities and how the personalities of groups can alter their response to these changes, particularly in different temperature environments.”

Could our planet’s continual warming be affecting our personalities in a way that we have yet to realize? It’s definitely possible, but we’ll just have to wait for further research to give us the final answer.

Journal Reference: Thermal effects on survival and reproductive performance vary according to personality type. 21 June 2016. 10.1093/beheco/arw084

angry personalities

Grammar police on social media are ‘less agreeable people’ in real life too, study finds

Those who take too much offence of improper grammar and typos in an informal situations were found have “less agreeable” personalities.

angry personalities

Image: Pixabay

Researchers at University of Michigan recruited 83 native English speakers via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and asked to read ‘email responses’ to an ad for a potential housemate. These e-mails contained either no errors or were altered to contain typos (e.g., teh) or homophonous grammar errors (grammos, e.g., to/too, it’s/its, there/their). Here’s an example:

Hey! My name is Pat and I’m interested in sharing a house with other students who are serious abuot (about) there (their) schoolwork but who also know how to relax and have fun. I like to play tennis and love old school rap. If your (you’re) someone who likes that kind of thing too, maybe we would mkae (make) good housemates.

The participants were then asked to judge the potential housemate using a 10-item evaluation scale for each message or paragraph. They had to rate from 1 to 7 — where 1 labeled strongly disagree and 7 labeled strongly agree — the following statements.

journal.pone.0149885.t001

A demographic/behavior questionnaire asked about age, gender, first language, highest education level, number of texts per day (0 to 100), features used on Facebook (chat, private message, wall posts, other) and frequency of usage, time spent pleasure reading, and the importance of good grammar.

Finally, a questionnaire was completed by each participant that gauged the Big Five Personality index (BFI). This index assigns a score for extraversion, agreeability, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.

House ads who had ‘grammos’/typos in them were rated more poorly overall, but some were overly harsh than others depending on their personalities. Extroverts were much more lenient and forgiving than introverts. Less open participants were more sensitive to typos, while those rated as having a less agreeable personality were upset by bad grammar.

“The primary contribution of the current study is the finding that personality traits influence our reactions to written errors.”

“It remains an open question whether the kind of variation in personality that our participants exhibited affects the most basic aspects of language comprehension (e.g., word recognition, syntactic parsing) or only relatively superficial aspects of interpretation,” the researchers write in PLOS ONE.

The sample size was very small, so take the conclusions lightly. Experience tells us that some people can be real jerks, though. Previous research found that applications containing typos or grammar mistakes negatively impacted fulfillment of real-world loan requests, for instance.

Apart from seemingly confirming an unwritten truth on the internet, the research supports a growing body of evidence “on the relationship between personality and language, which until now, has examined only certain aspects of language production, without considering any aspects of language interpretation,” the researchers note.

Cockroaches have different personalities and characters, study finds

The cockroach – one of the nature’s great survivors, hated by building residents throughout the entire world, just got more interesting. According to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, cockroaches have individual and even group personalities; in other words, cockroaches do have a character.

“Cockroaches are a simple animal, but they can reach a complex decision,” said lead author Isaac Planas-Sitjà, a behavioral ecologist at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, according to Reuters. “So with little information, with little interactions, only knowing if I have a partner here or not, only with this information, they can make complex decisions.”

Truth be told, cockroaches get a lot of needless bad rep – only 30 species out of 4,600 are associated with human habitats, and out of these, just four species are well known as pests. But those who are pests, are really hard to deal with; cockroaches are generally regarded as some of the most sturdiest species in the world, and for good reason. Some species are capable of remaining active for a month without food and are able to survive on limited resources, such as the glue from the back of postage stamps. Some can go without air for 45 minutes. In one experiment, cockroaches were able to recover from being submerged underwater for half an hour. The cockroach’s ability to withstand radiation is also well known, though they are not exceptionally radiation-resistant compared to other insects, such as the fruit fly.

Image via Globe Views.

Scientists chose cockroaches for this personality test because they don’t live in a clearly layered society, with leaders and workers. Planas-Sitjà and colleagues placed radio frequency identification chips to 304 roaches to track their movements when placed in a new environment, dividing them into 19 groups of 16 individuals. Three days a week, researchers would place each group in a brightly lit plastic area conceived as a shelter, and recorded how they behave. They noted that some cockroaches liked to stay in the shelters more, while others were more shy and didn’t enjoy spending time there. Some cockroaches were more bold and spent more time exploring the surroundings, while others took cover immediately.

“We have a group of equal individuals that reach a choice, can have consensus decision making as we can see in sheep, bats, some monkey species, fish, birds, for example, or also humans in this case,” said Planas-Sitjà.

The way individuals acted also affected group dynamics: if one roach was quick to settle under a shelter then it might encourage others to do the same, reducing the total amount of time needed to achieve the end result. This came as quite a surprise.

“The fact, and we didn’t expect it, is that they always reach this consensus,” Planas explained. “So we expected that some groups have more trouble than others to resist consensus or to choose a shelter, but at the end, no, they always finished aggregated. So it is something really inside the individuals or in the cockroaches. So that was really, that was amazing.”

It’s not the first time surprisingly complex behavior was reported in cockroaches. In 2014, a different team, also from Belgium, found that cockroaches make democratic group decisions. They presented 50 cockroaches with the choice of staying in two or three shelters, and they split equally (25 and 25) into two shelters; however, when they gave them a large enough shelter, they all shared the same shelter.

All in all, Belgium researchers seem adamant to show that cockroaches are much more complex than we previously thought, and they’re succeeding. The little insects deserve some recognition – after all, they do have character.

 

People follow the norm… even the norm is a computer, and wrong

People tend to follow the norm – that’s pretty well documented, and well understood. However, a new study has found that not only do people tend to follow other people, but they also follow the lead of a computer – even when it is blatantly wrong.

World of Warcraft is one of the most played computer games in history. In it, the player constructs an avatar and then completes quests.

In modern society, real life interactions and discussions are becoming rarer, substituted by computer or mobile phone interaction. Many routine tasks are delegated to virtual character, we often talk to people who are very far away from us in real life, and many people spend several hours every day playing computer games with a virtual avatar. This new study conducted by Ulrich Weger of the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany shows that for better or for worse, this type of activity enables people to acquire and practice real-life skills and new viewpoints. Weger and his team wanted to see how this affects people in day to day activities.

[Also Read: Interview with researcher Simone Kuhn about video games and the brain]

Participants in the study were asked to play an avatar computer game for seven minutes and then answered some questions where they had the chance to override wrong answers given by the computer. It was found that actually playing the game makes people identify with the computer, and follow its lead – even when it gave wrong answers. This further confirms that humans have a tendency to follow others’ lead, even when it’s a non-human lead.

The reason why such behaviour happens is something called information conformity. Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms. Information conformity is applying that set of behaviors to (of course) information. Researchers believe that as more and more people play video games for longer and longer times, it’s important to understand how this affects us in real life activities.

“Parents, educators, and players will need to take these consequences into consideration and take appropriate countermeasures,” says Weger. “For instance, at the very least it would be appropriate to reflect on what it really means to be human. We need to examine how this humanness can be educated and strengthened when it is shifted towards a more robot-like nature during virtual journeys as an avatar. The long-term consequences of such virtual reality gaming is also difficult to estimate – for instance in terms of a potential alienation from real-life encounters. By the time we know for sure what the consequences really are, it is likely going to be more difficult, perhaps impossible, to take appropriate countermeasures.”

Video games have received much attention in recent years, and rightly so. After the initial surge of disapproval coming from parents, scientists are starting to understand that video games can actually improve cognitive abilities. In 2013, a study found that playing video games improves spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning and further research showed that violent games don’t encourage violence in real life. Still, as this study found, there are still many effects we are just starting to understand.

Reference: Weger, U.W. et al (2014). Virtually compliant: Immersive video gaming increases conformity to false computer judgments, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, DOI 10.3758/s13423-014-0778-z

Computer knows you better than your friends – just by looking at your Facebook Likes

Researchers have found that just by analyzing your Facebook Likes, a computer can judge your personality better than even your close friends. They went even further than that, and calculated how many Likes the algorithm has to analyze to figure your personality traits.

This is a graph showing accuracy of computer model’s personality judgement compared with humans.
Credit: Wu Youyou/Michal Kosinski

You are what you Like – that goes for many  in today’s society, especially considering how some 400 million people in the world are addicted to the internet. That was the thought which launched this study; researchers from Cambridge and Stanford wanted to see if, by mining what a person liked on Facebook, they can predict his or her personality traits. They then compared their software to the person’s friends and family.

The results were quite surprising – given a sufficient amount of Likes to analyze, only the spouse was able to rival the computer’s accuracy.

“In the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially skilled machines,” said lead author Wu Youyou, from Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. “In this context, the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her seem to be within our reach.”

The study analyzed 86,220 volunteers on Facebook who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire through the ‘myPersonality‘ app, as well as providing access to their Likes. Researchers were then able to have 17,622 participants judged by one friend and 14,410 judged by two. They also correlated these results with previous decades of psychological research, finding that their results regarding how well friends know each other are coherent with their own results.

Dr Michal Kosinski, co-author and researcher at Stanford, says AI has the potential to know us better than even our closest friends and family, mostly because it can efficiently analyze vast quantities of information (Big Data).

“Big Data and machine-learning provide accuracy that the human mind has a hard time achieving, as humans tend to give too much weight to one or two examples, or lapse into non-rational ways of thinking,” he said. Nevertheless, the authors concede that detection of some traits might be best left to human abilities, those without digital footprints or dependant on subtle cognition.

Do we really want computers to know us that well? Image via PS Mag.

Authors explain that there are many potential applications in improving company hirings, ecommerce and dating sites.

“The ability to judge personality is an essential component of social living–from day-to-day decisions to long-term plans such as whom to marry, trust, hire, or elect as president,” said Cambridge co-author Dr David Stillwell. “The results of such data analysis can be very useful in aiding people when making decisions.”

Indeed, cheap and effective personality tests clearly can be applied in many areas.

Youyou explains: “Recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behaviour to best match their users’ characters and changing moods. People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. Such data-driven decisions may well improve people’s lives,” she said.

However, there is also a matter of privacy violation. Do we actually want computers to know us that well? Is it a breach of privacy if Facebook can understand our personality better than our friends? As technology continues to develop, will we completely lose control over our personality’s privacy? Authors also point these problems out.

It’s a concern shared by the researchers. “We hope that consumers, technology developers, and policy-makers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies, and giving the users full control over their digital footprints,” said Kosinski.