Research ArticleECOLOGY

Habituation is not neutral or equal: Individual differences in tolerance suggest an overlooked personality trait

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Science Advances  08 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 28, eaaz0870
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz0870


In behavioral studies, observer effects can be substantial, even for habituated animals, but few studies account for potential observer-related phenomenon empirically. We used wild, habituated chacma baboons to explore two key assumptions of behavioral ecology (i) that observers become a “neutral” stimulus and (ii) that habituation is “equal” across group members. Using flight initiation distance (FID) methods within a personality paradigm, the behavioral responses of baboons suggested that observers were not perceived as neutral but instead viewed as a high-ranking social threat. Habituation was also not equal across group members, with repeatable individual differences more important than contextual factors (e.g., habitat) in determining the distance at which baboons visually oriented or displaced from observers. A strong correlation between individual visual tolerance and displacement tolerance (i.e., convergent validity) indicated a personality trait. We offer several suggestions for how to account for these factors and minimize potential bias in future studies.

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