Fish have personalities (duh)

SOURCE: The Vancouver Sun: Nothing fishy about personality traits in animals, study finds

Of course, in typical fashion, researchers note that wild fish may have personalities, then they decide to grab a bunch of them for their study. Evidently, in their minds, having a personality has no relationship to having an interest in being left alone.

McLaughlin and student Alex Wilson found that the personalities stayed distinct even after the young fish, still just two to four centimetres long, left their natural homes.

For instance, he put the fish in a dark tube in the aquarium. The more active fish were always the ones that emerged into the main body of the tank first. They were more ready to take risks, and less afraid of unfamiliar objects in the water.

“What they do in the field predicts what they do in the lab,” he said. “We were getting this sense that they perceive the environment differently, and the kind of things we measured are part of what people are starting to call personality traits in animals.”

Is it just me, or do some scientists occasionally act like little children, sort of like pulling the tails off gerbils just to see what happens? And, of course, we tell children not to harm animals…

Maybe this will get easier as more and more people recognize animals as individuals with distinct personalities.

The idea of personalities is starting to spread across our views of the whole animal kingdom, says Rob McLaughlin, the Guelph biologist who ran the study. This seems obvious in the case of dogs or chimpanzees, but less obvious among fish.

Of course it’s obvious, mainly because we have more experience with them, but there’s also the consideration that some animals seem more neurologically advanced than others. But people need to stop assuming that non-humans and humans do not share certain basic, evolutionarily-developed traits like pain, fear, affection (love) and even personality. The pressures applied to our respective species, and our ability to adapt to them as individuals, result in different outcomes for each of us. Look at the difference between feral cats and house cats for one patently obvious example of how one’s environment shapes personality in animals.

The more rational course, in my opinion, would be to work from an assumption that all animals are unique beings with fundamental interests and leave them alone, rather than exploiting them to find out where we are right or wrong. Because, when we’re right–when we do research on an animal and find that they do, in fact, experience pain and have personalities–it’s at the expense of another being that we now know didn’t deserve to be treated like an object.



  1. Then, of course, there is the very distinct difference in personalities between all four of my cats. As we get to know animals better through close personal contact, we see how dumb it is to think of them as things and not beings.

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