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Personality in octopuses

Personality has been studied in octopuses, and although aspects of personality have been found, scientists are not in agreement whether or not this shows that octopuses have full personalities.

Large individual differences are commonly found in the behaviour of octopuses, even in standardised situations.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge in Cadana tested 44 octopuses in 3 situations (alerting, threat, and feeding) to measure this variation in behaviour.  They found evidence of individual differences in the behaviours relating to activity, reactivity, and avoidance. They concluded that ‘The similarity of these factors to dimensions of personality in humans and individual differences in animals suggests there may be commonalities in such variation across phyla.’

Another study by scientist at Macquarie University, Sydney showed ‘episodic personality’ in octopuses.

Because octopuses rely mainly on visual signals when interacting with other octopuses, predators and prey, they used video playback to present octopuses with controlled, moving and realistic stimuli in order to test for personality (defined as behavioural differences between individuals that are consistent over time and across ecologically important contexts).

They captured wild octopuses and tested them on 3 separate days over a 10 day period. On each test day, the octopuses were presented with videos of a food item, a novel object and another octopus. These represented a foraging, novel and threatening context, respectively.

The researchers found that the stimuli evoked clear and biologically appropriate responses from the octopuses. Furthermore, individuals' responses to the three contexts were highly correlated within a given test day. However, within a given context, individuals behaved inconsistently across the 3 test days. The scientists concluded that rather than fulfilling the criteria for personality, gloomy octopuses show variation over time, and hence display ‘episodic personality’.


  • Mather J. A and Anderson R. C 1993 Personalities of Octopuses (Octopus rubescens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, Volume 107, Issue 3, 336-340
  • Pronk R, Wilson D. R and Harcourt R 2010 Video playback demonstrates episodic personality in the gloomy octopus. Journal of Experimental Biology 213(Pt 7), 1035-41