Conscientious Chimps and Bold Birds

By Carl Zimmer | March 1, 2005 12:01 pm

I’ve got an article in today’s New York Times about animal personalities.

Update: I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a regular visitor to the gossip site Gawker. But I have to say I was surprised to see the personality article turn up there. Will hordes of New York hipsters discover the strange joys of evolution, of comparative psychology? We can only hope.

MORE ABOUT: Evolution

Comments (4)

  1. Very nice!

    This quote:
    “Each year the birds fight for territory where they can feed and breed. Bold birds are more aggressive than shy ones, and that sometimes helps them win territory. But the scientists have found that when bold birds lose, they are slow to recover. They end up at the bottom of the hierarchy, and in many cases just fly away. “They go to other places to try to become No. 1,” Dr. Drent said.

    This struggle might balance the birds between bold and shy personalities. If there are a lot of shy birds, the few bold ones will rise to the top. But if there are a lot of bold birds, they will fight a lot, and that will result in a lot of bold birds flying away. In these cases, the few shy birds will thrive. “So one of the personalities can never disappear completely,” Dr. Drent said. ” appears in the interview with Drent. Are there data supporting this notion?
    Does the idea appear in any scientific paper or review?

    Also, quite a lot of work has been done on personalities of birds that point to organizational effects of hormones. Thus, selective breeding would affect the mechanism (whatever it is, likely different in different groups of birds – I have some ideas but will not talk until I publish the data first) for differential allocation of hormones (e.g.., steroids) in the egg-yolk. Thus th egenetic story you present in the article is oversimplified (for the benefit of the NYT audience – they read David Brooks, after all).

  2. Anonymous

    Just wanted to let you know the ‘Gawker’ link is broken, it doesn’t have the http:// it needs.

  3. Ken Shackleton

    Interesting article, but not entirely surprizing that animals would have some level of personality. I have three cats in my household, and they each have very distinct personalities.

    Now that may be surprizing since a cat is basically a breathing muscle with very little brain-power that seems to run entirely on instinct.

  4. Noumenon

    When I read your article I thought, “I instantly know how this article got onto Gawker. He’s talking about scientists who study great tits!” But I was wrong.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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