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Journal Article

Animal personalities: an empty placeholder feigning understanding: a comment on Beekman and Jordan


Bshary,  Redouan
Emeritus, Seewiesen, Max Planck Institut für Ornithologie, Max Planck Society;


Milinski,  Manfred
Department Evolutionary Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Jungwirth, A., Wedell, N., Bshary, R., & Milinski, M. (2017). Animal personalities: an empty placeholder feigning understanding: a comment on Beekman and Jordan. Behavioral Ecology, 28(3), 629-630. doi:10.1093/beheco/arx048.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002E-87CF-7
The time is ripe for analyzing where the misgivings come from that researchers have after attending “personality” sessions at behavior conferences or reading papers in behavior and ecology journals that seem to attract excitement, because of the label “personality.” Beekman and Jordan (2017) point out that “animal personality” studies is nothing more than a rebranding of existing fields of research, fields that are far more solidly grounded and hypothesis driven than the often vague and superficial focus on animal personalities. They go on to state that there has been a rapid increase of mainly descriptive papers pointing to correlations and measuring behavioral repeatability with little attempt to link observed behaviors to evolutionary theory. “This latter approach was met with bemusement among many in the field of behavioral ecology” including the present authors. The field may have profited from the “Bystander’s Dilemma” (Darley and Latané 1968), meaning that if someone needs to do something, here criticize, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will criticize. However, somewhat surprisingly, as we took a similar initiative (Jungwirth et al., unpublished data), there are now 2 independent critical reviews of animal personality research written by outsiders to the field. Importantly, Beekman and Jordan criticize points very similar to the ones we raise, despite all of us having different scientific backgrounds. We may diverge in the emphases we place on various points but overall we agree that it is difficult to see how and where the animal personality approach has advanced our understanding of behavior, ecology, and evolution.