Linking personality and cognition: a meta-analysis

Liam Robert Dougherty, Lauren Mary Guillette

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decade, several conceptual papers have linked variation in animal personality to variation in cognition, and recent years have seen a flood of empirical studies testing this link. However, these results have not been synthesized in a quantitative way. Here, we systematically search the literature and conduct a phylogenetically controlled meta-analysis of empirical papers that have tested the relationship between animal personality (exploration, boldness, activity, aggression and sociability) and cognition (initial learning/reversal speed, number of correct choices/errors after standard training). We find evidence for a small but significant relationship between variation in personality and variation in learning across species in the absolute scale; however, the direction of this relationship is highly variable and when both positive and negative effect sizes are considered, the average effect size does not differ significantly from zero. Importantly, this variation among studies is not explained by differences in personality or learning measure, or taxonomic grouping. Further, these results do not support current hypotheses suggesting that that fast-explorers are fast-learners or that slow-explorers perform better on tests of reversal learning. Rather, we find evidence that bold animals are faster learners, but only when boldness is measured in response to a predator (or simulated predator) and not when boldness is measured by exposure to a novel object (or novel food). Further, although only a small sub-sample of papers reported results separately for males and females, sex explained a significant amount of variation in effect size. These results, therefore, suggest that, while personality and learning are indeed related across a range of species, the direction of this relationship is highly variable. Thus further empirical work is needed to determine whether there are important moderators of this relationship.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20170282
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1756
Early online date13 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2018


  • Behavioural Syndrome
  • Exploration
  • Individual differences
  • Learning
  • Sex differences


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