Animal personality: what are behavioural ecologists measuring?
The discovery that an individual may be constrained, and even behave sub-optimally, because of its personality type has fundamental implications for understanding individual- to group-level processes. Despite recent interest in the study of animal personalities within behavioural ecology, the field is fraught with conceptual and methodological difficulties inherent in any young discipline. We review the current agreement of definitions and methods used in personality studies across taxa and systems, and find that current methods risk misclassifying traits. Fortunately, these problems have been faced before by other similar fields during their infancy, affording important opportunities to learn from past mistakes. We review the tools that were developed to overcome similar methodological problems in psychology. These tools emphasise the importance of attempting to measure animal personality traits using multiple tests and the care that needs to be taken when interpreting correlations between personality traits or their tests. Accordingly, we suggest an integrative theoretical framework that incorporates these tools to facilitate a robust and unified approach in the study of animal personality.