Dogs, humans share personality likeness, study says


Austin, Texas-A first of its kind study compares dog personalities with human personalities, and finds the two species are strikingly similar, according to university researchers.

Austin, Texas-A first of its kind study compares dog personalities with human personalities, and finds the two species are strikingly similar, according to university researchers.

"We found evidence for the accuracy of personality judgment in domestic dogs is at least as good as personality judgment of humans," says Dr. Samuel Gosling, lead study author and professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The study, "A Dog's Got Personality: A Cross-Species Comparative Approach to Personality Judgments in Dogs and Humans," was published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Collaborating on the study with Gosling was Virginia Kwan of Princeton University and Oliver John of the University of California, Berkeley.

Speaking to the purpose of the research, Gosling says, "First, the study shows to many people who have been skeptical of the idea that animals have personalities that it does make sense to talk about personality in animals, which many scientists have been reluctant to acknowledge.

"I hope this will address lingering doubts of people," he says. "The fact that this was published in the top human personality journal says that some of the attitudes are beginning to shift."

Additionally, researchers say the study opens the door to applied uses, such as identifying good bomb-sniffing dogs or seeing-eye dogs, as well as theoretical uses such as understanding the genetic and environmental bases of personality.

In the first stage of the study, researchers asked dog owners to fill out personality tests about their dogs. Then study authors compared that data with what somebody else who knew the dog said about the dog to see whether both parties agreed that one dog is, for example, more friendly, than another one.

Compiling data

"The ultimate test is whether these judgments predict how the animal actually behaves in a testing situation. If personality is to be useful, it also should be a guide to behavior," Gosling says.

Researchers placed the dogs in behavioral testing situations, and the researchers corresponded how the dogs behaved in those situations with what owners said about the dogs.

What they found was that the criteria given on the personality tests matched the dogs' actual behaviors.

Canine personality, according to researchers, can be divided into four dimensions: energy (how active a dog is), affection (contrasts "friendly" dogs to "aggressive" ones), emotion reactivity (calm vs. nervous dogs) and competence, (a mixture of intelligence, obedience and focus).

Personality dimensions

Prior to this study, Gosling had looked for canine traits that were similar to human traits. Generally, research has shown the "Big Five" components of human personality are: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. At least 4.5 of those traits have been found in dogs, according to researchers. The one trait that was slightly off was conscientiousness.

"All of this shows we don't have to make up our own ways of talking about dogs' personalities, now that it's being validated in research," Gosling says.

"It's a very convincing, thorough study," says Gosling's colleague, Rebecca Ledger, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who has also conducted canine personality studies, but has not drawn human-canine comparisons. "It's very difficult to criticize, and it's been well-received."

Word on the street

She says a key component of the study is that Gosling has developed a technique allowing people to make comparisons between species. "We can draw some quite clear comparisons - that's why his study stands out," she says. "In terms of how consistent and measurable personality is, the study shows it's very similar between humans and canines," says Ledger.

"Maybe there's enough evidence to convince the pioneers in human personalities that the similarities between human and dog personalities are substantial," she adds.

Ledger says although the study's direct impact on veterinarians would be minimal, there's still valuable insight. "It's not adding much in terms of what, intuitively, veterinarians and every pet owner already know, which is that dogs really do have personality.

Influence on practitioners?

"However, the study is indicating that individual differences may have a lot to do with diagnosis. The more reliable methods are in assessing personality, the more we can use them to consider the likelihood that certain animals will have certain conditions or diseases. For instance, if certain people are more prone to heart disease, if we can identify similar traits reliably in dogs maybe we're going to find dogs are similarly predisposed to medical problems as well."

Adds Gosling, "In terms of predicting how dogs will behave, I'm sure veterinarians already use personality constructs when talking to their clients and to other veterinarians.

"What this should do is provide a more standard vocabulary for discussing canine personalities. Secondly, it reaffirms that these descriptions provided by owners really do tell us about the animals not just the owner's projection onto the animal," he says.

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