Psychometric test for tigers reveals two key personality characteristics

These personalities have a bearing on this endangered species’ ability to breed and flourish.
- Rosalind Arden
Siberian Tiger credit Sergey Gorshukov 747x560
Siberian Tiger. Sergey Gorshukov

The personalities of Siberian tigers can be understood through two key characteristics, according to a paper(1) published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

By devising the first psychometric test for tigers, researchers found that these big cats have at least two main personality features, which they labelled as ‘Majesty’ and ‘Steadiness’.

Tigers that scored higher on ‘Majesty’ were found to be healthier, eat more live prey, have higher group status and mate more often. ‘Steady’ tigers were high in sincerity, friendliness and gentleness.

The research follows the same general approach as that used in human personality research. In this, the most widely accepted model classifies personalities into five broad components. Personality tests based on this model measure how an individual rates on the scale for each characteristic.

Dr Rosalind Arden, one of the authors of the research and a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said: “Our research shows that tigers can be understood through two key personality features and how they rate for each. All tigers are not the same and, while we cannot know how the character or temperament of one tiger strikes another, we can assess how the personality of a tiger strikes human observers – and that’s what we measured.”

The researchers studied 248 Siberian (Amur) tigers in total. The first sample of 152 tigers live in the world's largest semiwild tiger sanctuary in North Eastern China and a second sample of 96 tigers also lives in a sanctuary – the Hengdaohezi Siberian Tiger Park – in Hailin city in Eastern China.

The researchers devised a ‘tiger personality’ questionnaire which was completed by feeders and veterinarians who knew the individual tigers well. The questionnaire contained a list of 70 words considered suitable to describe tiger personalities, such as ‘dignified’, ‘decisive’ and ‘confident’.

The research is based on an analysis of 800 questionnaires which were tested to see whether certain words were more likely to cluster around certain tigers. This enabled the researchers to build a picture of these two key features of tiger personalities.

The findings from the first sample of tigers were consistent with those found in the second.

Dr Rosalind Arden said: “Like us, Siberian tigers are individuals. Understanding their temperaments is essential because, as we have seen, these personalities have a bearing on this endangered species’ ability to breed and flourish.”

Behind the article

  1. ‘Majestic tigers: personality structure in the great Amur cat’ by Rosalind Arden, Abdel Abdellaoui, Qian Li, Yao Zheng, Dengfeng Wang, Yanjie Su.