Movies, TV shows, and even Greek myths portray dolphins as helpful, playful creatures. “The world loves a good dolphin story,” Blake Morton, a scientist who studies animal behavior, told TIME for Kids. “And I think one reason for that is we see a lot of ourselves mirrored in their behavior.”
Morton used scientific methods to test his theory objectively . The result of this work is a new report confirming that humans and dolphins share certain personality traits. The report was published in January, in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
The study involved 134 bottlenose dolphins at facilities in eight countries and territories. Each dolphin was observed and rated by several people, using a “dolphin personality questionnaire.” The questionnaire consisted of more than 40 items. It included adjectives such as stubborn, playful, and intelligent. Staff members gave every dolphin a score from 1 to 5 for each item, based on how well it described the animal’s behavior. From these ratings, Morton and his team were able to spot personality traits that are common in dolphins.
The results show that dolphins and humans have some similar personality traits. Most notably, the two species share traits related to curiosity and sociability .
The Big Picture
Morton’s dolphin study and others like it help us learn about other species. But they also help us learn about ourselves. “My kind of work stems from the spirit of trying to understand what made humans the way we are,” Morton says. “One way we can do that is to compare our behavior to the rest of the animal kingdom.”
Scientists around the world are researching different animal species, from apes in Africa to reptiles in North America. They’re trying to determine what makes humans different from other animals. They also want to know what makes us the same. Their research raises important questions that future scientists will work to answer.
It’s all a big puzzle, Morton says: “It takes thousands of careful papers being published before you start to see the puzzle coming together.” He compares scientific research to pointillism. That’s a painting style in which an artist makes a picture using lots of tiny dots. “If you take a step back and look at all those little single points of work,” Morton says, “you’ll see a big picture come into view.”