LP Zoo research: Chimps have human-like personalities

June 4, 2013 3:47:33 PM PDT
Our closest animal relatives just got a promotion. New research at Lincoln Park Zoo says chimpanzees have personalities very similar to ours.

At the Lincoln Park Zoo chimpanzee habitat, a recent study on chimpanzee personalities has just been released. For four years, a team of observers tracked every move of 99 chimps at a Texas research center. In charge of the study was primatalogist Hani Freeman, and she says each chimp can be divided into five dimensions.

"There's reactivity/undependability, dominance, extraversion, openness, and agreeableness," said Freeman. "In all chimpanzees, at least the ones in captivity."

Now some chimps might be more dominant and want to be the boss and others might be more agreeable and be better team players, but they all have all five traits to one degree or another. It's good to know. But what is it good for?

"One example of what we could do with it is if transferring one chimpanzee to another group of chimpanzees; we can figure out how well they will mesh well together based on their personalities," Freeman said.

Chimpanzees, and our very distant ancestors, took different branches on the evolutionary tree five million years ago. That's a long time. But we're still very much alike. Just like chimps we can be shy and lonely. We can be at the end of our ropes, we can be tender. And yes, scientists have found five similar personality dimensions in us. But what about the sixth dimension, love?

"Based on my experience of studying chimpanzees I do believe they can love each other. I've seen evidence of grief with them, and I have seen bonds between them, attachments between them, and I believe they can love," Freeman said.

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