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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Personality and Affiliation in a Cooperative Task for Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Dyads


Social species can depend on each other for survival, helping in rearing of young, predator defense, and foraging. Personality dynamics between individuals may influence cooperative behaviors. Bottlenose dolphins ( Tursiops truncatus ) live in social communities and cooperate with other conspecifics to achieve goals both in the wild and in human care. We investigated the role that personality plays in the willingness of dolphins to work together. We tested five bottlenose dolphin pairs at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences, Honduras, with an apparatus previously used to experimentally test dolphin cooperation. Personality profiles of each dolphin were created using surveys completed by the caretakers, in particular noting two different categories of interactions: dolphin to dolphin and dolphin to world. We hypothesized that dyadic success in the cooperative task would differ based on specific personality traits of individuals. We also hypothesized that the most successful dyads would show similar types of conspecific sociality and different means of interacting with objects. Although none of the dolphin pairs cooperated to open the apparatus, individual personalities were analyzed in relation to the dolphins’ individual and mutual interactions with the apparatus as well as the pairs’ social behaviors. Playfulness, curiosity, and affiliation as well as agreeableness, and extraversion were positively related to affiliation with the apparatus and each other. These findings suggest that certain aspects of personality are indicative of affiliation or interaction by an individual dolphin. These results could guide future animal research on the relationship between personality, social interactions, and problem-solving.

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