Tag Archives: Personalities

Did you know how smart chickens are?

When I was a child, I often went to visit my grandmother in the countryside. She had a small flock of chickens that freely roamed the front yard. At that time, I was mostly interested in exotic animals and paid little attention to the chickens. But now I regret that I didn’t observe their behaviour more, as chickens’ cognitive skills are more advanced than many people think.

Logical inference

Wild and free-range chickens live in groups with a hierarchical social structure. There is one dominant rooster and a dominant hen, subordinates of both sexes and chicks. The subordinates are not all equal, but form a so-called pecking order. Chickens can peck others who are lower in the hierarchy without fear of retaliation. If a new chicken is added to the group it has to find its place in the pecking order. But that does not mean that it has to fight each other chicken. Chickens watch each other’s fights and can draw conclusions from the results.

For example, if a new chicken beat a chicken that is dominant over the observer, the observer should avoid fights with the new chicken (if the new one is stronger than the dominant one, then the new one must be stronger than the observer). But if the new chicken lost to the dominant, then it might be worth it to attack the new chicken as there is a chance of winning. Chicken behaviour seems to indeed follow this logic. It is an example of self-assessment combined with transitive interference – a reasoning ability that humans develop only at the age of seven.

Numerical abilities

Even a few days old chicks can count, add and subtract (at least up to five). For example, in one experiment researchers showed chicks two sets of balls and then hid them behind two opaque screens. Afterwards they moved the balls between the screens, one ball at the time, while the chicks watched it. Afterwards chicks were able to indicate the screen behind which more balls were hidden.


When given the choice between two keys to peck, one of which gave brief access to food after a brief delay, and one of which gave much longer access to food after a longer delay, hens preferred the second option. Therefore, they were willing to wait a longer time for a greater reward.  In other words, chicken pass a kind of marshmallow test for self-control!

Communication and manipulation

I wrote some time ago about hens paying attention to great tit alarm calls. But chickens of course also listen to each other. They can adjust their calls to a specific situation and they can even cheat.

Roosters give one alarm call when they spot a bird of prey and a different one for a terrestrial predator (for example a raccoon). And hens react appropriately to each call and situation. When the rooster is in a safe place (for example under the cover of bushes), it will call longer. It seems to understand that it is safe from the predator.

Roosters also have a specific call and behavioural display they use to notify hens when they find tasty food, in order to increases their mating chances.  However, if a subordinate rooster finds food when a dominant rooster is nearby, it will only perform the display and omit the call, reducing the risk that the dominant rooster will notice him and chase him away. But when the dominant rooster is distracted by something else, subordinate roosters will also call.

Sometimes a rooster cheats and calls even if he doesn’t find food, but hens quickly learn not to trust this male.

Personality and its consequences

Like many other species that have been studied, chickens have personalities.

Some hens tend to be more nervous than others, which in turn affect their chicks’ stress level. Roosters’ personalities can affect result of a fight. If two roosters of the same size fight, the outcome can be predicted by studying their typical behaviour: usually the bolder, more active, more explorative and more vigilant individual wins.

These are just some examples of chickens’ cognitive abilities. Additionally, they have time perception, episodic memory, emotions and other skills often attributed to “more advanced” animals. They are much more than just “machines” for egg and meat production.

If you have a chance to observe (relatively) free-range chickens, take the opportunity to have a closer look at their behaviour. And if you want, let me know what you saw.

Photo: Quang Nguyen Vinh, Pexels.com

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Do you know the difference between the personalities of “cat people” and “dog people”?

This time the article is about the human animal.

Many people have no problem answering the question whether they are a “cat person” or “dog person”. Some are attracted to dogs’ attachment and obedience, others to the grace and independence of cats. Sometimes it’s about other features, associations or stereotypes, or even just an inexplicable feeling.

Dogs are pack animals, while domestic cats descend from solitary animals and generally speaking dogs and cats differ in personality traits. So, one might expect that people who prefer one over the other would also differ in personalities. But if so, how?

Researchers from the USA decided to check this using an internet personality test and questionnaire. More than 4.5 thousand people from different countries filled in the Big Five Inventory* assessing five main personality traits. Afterwards they answered the question whether they identify themselves as “a dog person”, “a cat person”, “a dog and a cat person” or “neither”.

More than half of the respondents identified themselves as either a cat person or dog person. And their personality scores were indeed different. Dog people (independent of their gender) were more extroverted, agreeable, conscientious and emotionally stable, but less open to experiences (see figure below). Of course, these are only average scores and for sure there are very agreeable cat people or antagonistic dog people.

And what about the people who identify as “a dog and cat person” or as “neither”? Generally speaking, they were more similar to dog people, except that “dog and cat people” were more open to experience, and those choosing “neither” were less extroverted.

Results of personality test for men and women identifying themselves as a cat person or a dog person – for people who want to check their own results* with the averages (results from Big Five inventory that gives results in 1-5 scale; after Gosling et al. 2010)

I decided to test myself to see whether I’m closer to the average dog or cat person (looking only at women’s scores). In most categories I was much closer to dog people, in neuroticism I just in-between can and dog people, and only my introversion is closer to cat people. And this actually matches my preferences. Most of my life I would, without hesitation, have said that I’m a dog person. Dogs are so friendly, sociable and faithful. However, recently cats are becoming more attractive to me, but I’m not sure why.

* Most online tests I found use different questionnaires. I only found the Big Five Inventory here.

Photos: Cat – Japheth Mast, Dog – Daria Shevtsova, Pexels.com

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Did you know that rats have personalities?

My rats: Takyo and Stripe

It’s evening.

My pet rats are waking up. Well, one of them is. Tokyo has left the sleeping place and scanned the cage for new food. Now she is standing on one of the wooden bridges in the cage and is looking in my direction. Stripe is still sleeping when I approach and open the cage. While Tokyo is happy to run up my arm, Stripe opens her eyes and slowly stretches. If I left, she would go back to sleep. But I wait and she gets up, stretches and yawns some more. At last, she approaches the door, sticks her head out and sniffs my hand. But then she retreats to the cage and grooms for a bit. Encouraging words and my presence make her repeat this pattern a couple of times and at last, she leaves the cage. In the meantime, Tokyo got bored with running up and down my sleeves and is trying to get on top of the cage.

Tokyo and Stripe are two sisters from the same litter. But like most human siblings they differ in their personality and likes and dislikes. Tokyo is more of an extrovert. She is more energetic and likes contact with people. She is happy to leave her cage and climb my arms or even better get under a jumper or into a sleeve. Because she likes contact with humans, she also learns tricks easier. She seems more intelligent, but that may be my human bias.

Stripe is more of an introvert. Getting out of the cage and onto my arm usually takes long, even if she is not sleepy. And she likes sleeping. But she is much braver than Tokyo in exploring new places. And of course, they also have their food preferences, for example Tokyo prefers basil over coriander and Stripe the reverse.

Whoever had cats and dogs may not be surprised that rats also have personalities. But many other animals do as well, even fish, bees or woodlice.

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