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Am J Primatol. 2010 Aug;72(8):653-71. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20833.

Personality in nonhuman primates: a review and evaluation of past research.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 78712, USA.


Scientific reports of personality in nonhuman primates are now appearing with increasing frequency across a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, endocrinology, and zoo management. To identify general patterns of research and summarize the major findings to date, we present a comprehensive review of the literature, allowing us to pinpoint the major gaps in knowledge and determine what research challenges lay ahead. An exhaustive search of five scientific databases identified 210 relevant research reports. These articles began to appear in the 1930s, but it was not until the 1980s that research on primate personality began to gather pace, with more than 100 articles published in the last decade. Our analyses of the literature indicate that some domains (e.g., sex, age, rearing conditions) are more evenly represented in the literature than are others (e.g., species, research location). Studies examining personality structure (e.g., with factor analysis) have identified personality dimensions that can be divided into 14 broad categories, with Sociability, Confidence/Aggression, and Fearfulness receiving the most research attention. Analyses of the findings pertaining to inter-rater agreement, internal consistency, test-retest reliability, generally support not only the reliability of primate personality ratings scales but also point to the need for more psychometric studies and greater consistency in how the analyses are reported. When measured at the level of broad dimensions, Extraversion and Dominance generally demonstrated the highest levels of inter-rater reliability, with weaker findings for the dimensions of Agreeableness, Emotionality, and Conscientiousness. Few studies provided data with regard to convergent and discriminant validity; Excitability and Dominance demonstrated the strongest validity coefficients when validated against relevant behavioral criterion measures. Overall, the validity data present a somewhat mixed picture, suggesting that high levels of validity are attainable, but by no means guaranteed. Discussion focuses on delineating major theoretical and empirical questions facing research and practice in primate personality.

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