Humans are understood to possess different types of personalities, and perhaps unsurprisingly, personality traits are further divided between males and females. Researchers have long assumed this to be true in a variety of primates, but related research involving non-primate species is few and far in between.
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Previous studies have demonstrated that Asian elephants commonly exhibit one of three core personality traits: aggressiveness, attentiveness, and sociability. But according to a study that was just recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, specific attributes may pop up more frequently in certain sexes of Asian elephants, much like we understand to be true in humans.
After analyzing a semi-captive population of Asian elephants from Myanmar, a team of researchers from the University of Turku in Finland has ascertained that male Asian elephants are more likely to sport the aggressiveness trait than females and that females are more likely to exhibit the sociable train than males.
"We found that males scored higher on the aggressiveness personality trait compared to females," elaborated study lead author Martin Seltmann from the University of Turku’s Department of Biology.
"Males also tended to be rated as less sociable than females, scoring lower on the Sociability personality trait than females. We found no sex difference in the Attentiveness personality trait or in variances of any of the personality traits examined."
The researchers purportedly reached this conclusion after quizzing those who interacted with the elephants almost daily. The quizzes were explicitly designed to identify the traits each elephant exhibited while they were interacted with, and from that, the researchers could determine any differences in behavior between the males and females.
"The elephants work in the timber industry, pulling logs from one place to another. This is a very unique research environment and population, enabling us to study several hundreds of elephants," Seltmann continued.
Given the circumstances, it seems likely that the males exhibit aggressiveness as a form of dominance to help them stand out from their peers to potential mates and ensure reproductive success. As for the females’ sociability, this seems to be a common trait among long-lived mammals in general.
The researchers also found nearly equal distributions of attentiveness between males and females, which suggests that this is a universal personality trait among both sexes.
It can be challenging to understand animal behavior, mostly because we don’t speak their language and we can only theorize about the things we observe. On the other hand, studies like this one are making strides in understanding how other animals act and communicate, which could be important for future conservation efforts as the need arises.
It should be interesting to see what other follow-up studies might branch from this topic of interest; after all, these researchers baser their entire study from the findings of another. It’s always particularly interesting to see how all the dominoes fall into place to uncover more in these types of scenarios.