Testing for personality consistency across naturally occurring behavioral contexts in sanctuary chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

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Personality is both a reflection of the bio-behavioral profile of individuals and a summary of how they typically interact with their physical and social world. Personality is usually defined as having distinct behavioral characteristics, which are assumed to be consistent over time and across contexts. Like other mammals, primates have individual differences in personality. Although temporal consistency is sometimes measured in primates, and contextual consistency is sometimes measured across experimental contexts, it is rare to measure both in the same individuals and outside of experimental settings. Here, we aim to measure both temporal and contextual consistency in chimpanzees, assessing their personality with behavioral observations from naturally occurring contexts (i.e., real-life settings). We measured personality-based behaviors in 22 sanctuary chimpanzees, in the contexts of feeding, affiliation, resting, and solitude, across two time periods, spanning 4 years. Of the 22 behaviors recorded, about 64% were consistent across two to four contexts and 50% were consistent over time. Ten behaviors loaded significantly onto three trait components: explorativeness, boldness-sociability, and anxiety-sociability, as revealed by factor analysis. Like others, we documented individual differences in the personality of chimpanzees based on reliably measured observations in real-life contexts. Furthermore, we demonstrated relatively strong, but not absolute, temporal, and contextual consistency in personality-based behaviors. We also found another aspect of individual differences in personality, specifically, the extent to which individual chimpanzees show consistency. Some individuals showed contextual and temporal consistency, whereas others show significant variation across behaviors, contexts, and/or time. We speculate that the relative degree of consistency in personality may vary within chimpanzees. It may be that different primate species vary in the extent to which individuals show consistency of personality traits. Our behavioral-based assessment can be used with wild populations, increasing the validity of personality studies, facilitating comparative studies and potentially being applicable to conservation efforts.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23451
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Early online date17 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


  • behavior-based traits
  • contextual consistency
  • great apes
  • real-life settings
  • temporal consistency


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