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Animals 2015, 5(3), 455-478;

Consistent Individual Behavioral Variation: The Difference between Temperament, Personality and Behavioral Syndromes

Scotland's Rural College, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JGF, UK
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Clive J. C. Phillips
Received: 5 February 2015 / Revised: 4 June 2015 / Accepted: 17 June 2015 / Published: 8 July 2015
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Simple Summary

The interchangeable usage of the words “personality”, “temperament” and “behavioral syndromes” in animal behavior research has often led to confusion. In this paper, we devise a framework for describing the behavioral phenomenon, between-individual/between-population variation, and between/across context variation. This framework can be used to give unique definitions of the three terms, supported by previous literature, giving clarity moving forward in the field of animal behavior.


Ethologists use a variety of terminology such as “personality”, “temperament” and “behavioral syndromes” almost interchangeably to discuss the phenomenon of individuals within a population of animals consistently varying from one another in their behavioral responses to stimuli. This interchangeable usage of terminology has contributed to confusion within the field of animal behavior and limits the study of the phenomenon. Here we use a rapid, non-exhaustive and repeatable search strategy literature review to investigate where there were unique distinctions between these three terms and where there was an overlap in their usage. We identified three main areas of confusion in terminology: historical usage which is not updated; a lack of precision between different fields of study; and a lack of precision between different levels of variation. We propose a framework with which to understand and define the terms based on the levels of variation ethologists are interested in. Consistent individual animal behavioral variation relates to the different structures of variation of between-individual/between-population and between and across contexts. By formalizing this framework we provide clarity between the three terms which can be easily defined and understood. View Full-Text
Keywords: personality; temperament; behavioral syndromes personality; temperament; behavioral syndromes

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MacKay, J.R.D.; Haskell, M.J. Consistent Individual Behavioral Variation: The Difference between Temperament, Personality and Behavioral Syndromes. Animals 2015, 5, 455-478.

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