Animal Personality The Science Behind Individual Variation

animal personality

April 1, 2018

From ‘scaredy cats’ to ‘moody cows’, we often give animals personality when we talk about them, but does this have any basis in scientific fact? How can we tell if a cat is feeling fear, and how does a grumpy cow behave? What would make an animal an individual? And what makes them unique? Only recently has science confirmed that animals have distinct individual personalities, shown through behavioural research. Animal Personality introduces the fundamentals of personality science and research, describing the history of behavioural testing, and then drills into scientific measurement, recording and statistical analysis of individual personalities in animals. The author shows how the implications of animals having personalities affects how we treat and care for pets, farm animals and wildlife. Interesting questions are posed, such as what is the evolutionary reason for traits like fearfulness, aggression and sociability? Have we anthropomorphised animals’ needs for social interactions? What are the neurological and genetic bases of personality? How has personality affected the domestication of wild species? And it questions long held beliefs about animal traits such as dominance theory. Animal Personality provides a fascinating and informed insight into the science of personality and its application to non-human animals. Ethologists and animal owners will find this an illuminating and thought-provoking resource. Dr Jill R D MacKay is a researcher and lecturer at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She is extremely passionate about science communication and has been heavily involved with the Jeanne Marchig Centre for International Animal Welfare Education’s outreach practices, including the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Massive Open Online Course. She coordinates and teaches on a range of animal welfare courses at the University of Edinburgh, from postgraduate to further education levels.

Animal Personality

I have a book! If you enjoy reading this site, you might find the book just as enjoyable, if not even more.

You can purchase Animal Personality from 5M Publishers here.

Or from Blackwell’s …

Or from Amazon …

Or from Waterstones!

What’s this book then?

Animal Personality: The Science Behind Individual Variation is a popular science book (think John Bradshaw’s ‘Cat Sense/Dog Sense’ series, or Mary Roach’s very enjoyable books) about our animal friends. How do we know they are individuals, and how can we measure that difference? What does ‘personality’ actually mean?

When I was invited to write a book by 5M publishers, I was keen not to write a textbook, but it still covers a lot of fundamental scientific principles. Just in an amusing, and accessible way.

Will it tell me how to help Fido?

Animal personality is a study of evolution, as much as it is a study of individuals. While the book will certainly help you understand Fido (and his friends) a bit better, it’s not going to help with any chronic behavioural problems. But your vet will be happy to help!

I think my library should get a copy!

Please request that they do! If you want some help send me a tweet or get in touch with me. You can find my contact details by searching my name at

Aren’t you making money off this?

Yes. I need to keep Athena in toys somehow.