Sunday, January 22, 2006

That Octopus Is Clearly a Capricorn

Via Lindsay of Majikthise and David Velleman of Left2Right, I came across this article by Charles Siebert on animal personalities in the New York Times magazine. David focuses on the "duh" factor of the article, writing:
Long around paragraph 30, however, the author, Charles Siewart [sic], finally admits that the findings he reports have a "prodigious 'duh factor'". What scientists have found is that some individual octopus or spiders are more aggressive than others; some are more cautious than others; some are more sociable than others; and so on. Anyone who has owned more than one cat, hamster, or goldfish knows that.

Nor has anyone ever thought that in displaying behavioral traits like aggressiveness or caution, non-human animals are poaching on human territory. If having a personality is just a matter of being passive or aggressive, rash or cautious, sociable or shy, then personality is hardly "that one aspect of the self we have long thought to be exclusively and quintessentially ours".
Of course, the scientists studying animal personality traits knew that animals exhibit personality differences. This is what led them to study them in the first place. The idea is that the study of animal personalities might provide some insight into human personalities.

Lindsay focused on the discussion of octopus personalities, because she's apparently having a bit of an ethical crisis over eating the poor mollusks. She quotes some interesting descriptions of octopus personalities from the article. I liked these in particular:
One particularly temperamental G.P.O. [Giant Pacific Octopus] so disliked having his tank cleaned, he would keep grabbing the cleaning tools, trying to pull them into the tank, his skin going a bright red. Another took to regularly soaking one of the aquarium's female night biologists with the water funnel octopus normally use to propel themselves, because he didn't like it when she shined her flashlight into his tank. Yet another G.P.O. of the Leisure Suit Larry mold once tried to pull into his tank a BBC videographer who got her hand a bit too close, wrapping his tentacles up and down her arm as fast as she could unravel them. When she finally broke free, the octopus turned a bright red and doused her with repeated jets of water.
I can't help but also think of the shark-eating giant octopus. That one clearly ranked high on the aggressiveness scale.

Anyway, I discussed this research earlier, focusing on a study of hyenas, in a post last March. In that post, you'll find a link to a review of the research on personality in several species, including primates, octopus and even guppies (but not David's goldfish). Enjoy.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is not this blog spozed to be about "Cognitive Science"?
I haven't seen much posts here about this recently, unless you count socio-political chatter as "Cognitive Science" (that would rather be the "Grandparents" variety or even the "pub at the corner" variety)
Sigh...

Cheryl said...

The idea is that the study of animal personalities might provide some insight into human personalities. but we still found they both are so different!
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