Natalie Angier at the NYT tells us “Even Among Animals: Leaders, Followers and Schmoozers“:
[…] Scientists studying animals from virtually every niche of the bestial kingdom have found evidence of distinctive personalities — bundled sets of behaviors, quirks, preferences and pet peeves that remain stable over time and across settings. They have found stylistic diversity in chimpanzees, monkeys, barnacle geese, farm minks, blue tits and great tits, bighorn sheep, dumpling squid, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra finches, spotted hyenas, even spiders and water striders, to name but a few. They have identified hotheads and tiptoers, schmoozers and loners, divas, dullards and fearless explorers, and they have learned that animals, like us, often cling to the same personality for the bulk of their lives. The daredevil chicken of today is the one out crossing the road tomorrow.
Researchers are delving into the source and significance of all these animal spirits. They are asking questions like, when geese start on a wild goose chase, what sort of goose will lead the flock, and why do the rest choose to follow it? They are devising computer models to explain how different personality types can be maintained in a given animal population, and they are exploring the upsides and drawbacks of different personal styles.
[…] Ralf H. J. M. Kurvers of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and his colleagues sought to learn why when certain barnacle geese would start moving, others would honkily follow. They could find no obvious correlation between leadership and standard pluses like large size, maleness or social dominance. The only reliable predictor of goose leadership was boldness — the willingness to approach a new item like a scrap of carpet. Geese are not stupid. The boldest birds also proved the most adept at finding new food patches, and if you’re looking for grazing advice in a crowd, why not follow the goose with the golden track record?
Scientists suspect that small inherited predispositions are either enhanced or suppressed by experience, and computer models show that tiny discrepancies at the start can become enormous over time, through feedback loopings of positive reinforcement. Evidence is also emerging that certain physical setpoints affect temperament globally. Notable among such setpoints is the relative rate at which one’s nervous system processes sensory information.
“There are low information processors who don’t attend much to their environment and bulldoze through life,” said David Sloan Wilson of the State University of New York at Binghamton. “Then there are the sensitive ones who are always taking things in, which can be good because information is valuable, but it can also be overwhelming.”
There’s an iPad joke in there somewhere… not to mention something about teabaggers… or we could just go with the obvious blogger parallels…