Social dominance in a gregarious bird is related to body size but not to standard personality assays

Caterina Funghi*, Ana V. Leitão, André C. Ferreira, Paulo G. Mota, Gonçalo C. Cardoso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


The recent growth of research on animal personality could provide new insights into our understanding of sociality and the structure of animal groups. Although simple assays of the type commonly used to study animal personality have been shown to correlate with social aggressiveness in some bird species, conflicting empirical results do not yet make it clear when such assays, typically using isolated individuals, predict behaviour within social groups. We measured aggressiveness in groups of a very gregarious species, the common waxbill (Estrilda astrild), and performed five commonly used behavioural assays on the same individuals: tonic immobility, mirror test, novel object test, open-field test and a variant of the latter in an enriched environment. We found that larger individuals were more dominant and that differences in aggressiveness were repeatable. None of the traditional behavioural assays were related to aggressiveness or dominance. Standard personality assays may fail to capture individual differences relevant to predict social behaviour, and we discuss biological and methodological explanations for these results, such as social behaviour being in part an emergent property of groups rather than an intrinsic property of individuals, or gregarious species being particularly sensitive to the conditions of standard personality assays that test individuals alone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-93
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggressiveness
  • Personality assays
  • Social behaviour


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