Evolutionary emergence of responsive and unresponsive personalities
Abstract: In many animal species, individuals differ consistently in suites of correlated behaviors, comparable with human personalities. Increasing evidence suggests that one of the fundamental factors structuring personality differences is the responsiveness of individuals to environmental stimuli. Whereas some individuals tend to be highly responsive to such stimuli, others are unresponsive and show routine-like behaviors. Much research has focused on the proximate causes of these differences but little is known about their evolutionary origin. Here, we provide an evolutionary explanation. We develop a simple but general evolutionary model that is based on two key ingredients. First, the benefits of responsiveness are frequency-dependent; that is, being responsive is advantageous when rare but disadvantageous when common. This explains why responsive and unresponsive individuals can coexist within a population. Second, positive-feedback mechanisms reduce the costs of responsiveness; that is, responsiveness is less costly for individuals that have been responsive before. This explains why individuals differ consistently in their responsiveness, across contexts and over time. As a result, natural selection gives rise to stable individual differences in responsiveness. Whereas some individuals respond to environmental stimuli in all kinds of contexts, others consistently neglect such stimuli. Interestingly, such differences induce correlations among all kinds of other traits (e.g., boldness and aggressiveness), thus providing an explanation for environment-specific behavioral syndromes.
Published Mar. 6, 2012 2:24 PM