Description: What can dogs tell us about the nature and extent of changes in the human personality with age? Well, I bet I know what you are thinking: People are like their dogs so if we observe people’s dogs through time, we will see signs of how their owner’s personalities may be changing with age. A very sensible research proposal but think about this. What if researchers decided to use dogs as a model for humans in their studies of personality changes with age the same way other researchers use specially bred mice to study Parkinson’s disease or certain forms of cancer? Certainly, the fact that dogs do not live as long as humans means that life-cycle changes in personality can be studied in dogs over a shorter period of time that the same study would take with humans. But how would you measure personality in dogs who, as human friendly as many of them are, will not respond to personality inventory questions? Additionally, what would the main hypotheses be that might be the focus of such research (assuming the assessment problem is solved)? Gather your thoughts in relation to these questions and then read the article linked below to see how researchers at the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Vienna organized their research into these questions.
Source: What Dogs Can Teach You About Your Own Personality, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Fulfillment at Any Age, Psychology Today.
Date: January 5, 2021
I must admit that my initial reaction to this study was “what…?” (But he study was published in Nature!) That said, I found the researchers’ system for assessing dog intelligence quite impressive and the resulting 5 factor model of dog (well border collie at least) personality quite compelling. As well, I thought the focus on sorting out the extent to which there are general personality changes in aging dogs as opposed to individual differences in both dog personality profile and changes with age was well constructed and potentially useful. The researchers noted important caveats or limitations on their results such as generalizability beyond Border Collies, their applicability across species and their appropriately ethical limitations given the exclusion of fearfulness and aggressiveness, despite these being important considerations in relation to groups like aggressive offenders and domestic violence perpetrators. The specific findings about what did or did not change were quite interesting as well. So, dogs as a model for studying personality changes with age? Why not!
Questions for Discussion:
- How did the researchers assess dog personality and how might that methods work if applied to humans?
- What were the dimensions of dog personality the researchers identified?
- How were personality changes in dogs over age associated with aging and individual differences and what might the results suggest about how we should approach the question of personality change with age in dogs AND in humans?
References (Read Further):
Turcsán, B., Wallis, L., Berczik, J., Range, F., Kubinyi, E., & Virányi, Z. (2020). Individual and group level personality change across the lifespan in dogs. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-12. Link
Szücs, A., Szanto, K., Aubry, J. M., & Dombrovski, A. Y. (2018). Personality and suicidal behavior in old age: a systematic literature review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 128. Link
Cruitt, P. J., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2018). Age-related outcomes associated with personality pathology in later life. Current opinion in psychology, 21, 89-93. Link
Graham, E. K., Rutsohn, J. P., Turiano, N. A., Bendayan, R., Batterham, P. J., Gerstorf, D., … & Mroczek, D. K. (2017). Personality predicts mortality risk: An integrative data analysis of 15 international longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 70, 174-186. Link
Park, J., & Hess, T. M. (2020). The effects of personality and aging attitudes on well-being in different life domains. Aging & mental health, 24(12), 2063-2072. Link
Costa Jr, P. T., McCrae, R. R., & Löckenhoff, C. E. (2019). Personality across the life span. Annual review of psychology, 70, 423-448. Link