Novelty induces behavioural and glucocorticoid responses in a songbird artificially selected for divergent personalities

A.T. Baugh (Corresponding author), K.R. Witonsky, S.C. Davidson, L. Hyder, M. Hau, K. van Oers

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Stress physiology is thought to contribute to individual differences in behaviour. In part this reflects the fact that canonical personality measures consist of responses to challenges, including novel objects and environments. Exposure to novelty is typically assumed to induce a moderate increase in glucocorticoids (CORT), although this has rarely been tested. We tested this assumption using great tits, Parus major, selected for divergent personalities (bold-fast and shy-slow explorers), predicting that the shy birds would exhibit higher CORT following exposure to a novel object. We also scored behavioural responses to the novel object, predicting that bold birds would more frequently approach the novel object and exhibit more abnormal repetitive behaviours. We found that the presence of a novel object did induce a moderate CORT response, but selection lines did not differ in the magnitude of this response. Furthermore, although both selection lines showed a robust CORT elevation to a subsequent restraint stressor, the CORT response was stronger in bold birds and this effect was specific to novel object exposure. Shy birds showed a strong positive phenotypic correlation between CORT concentrations following the novel object exposure and the subsequent restraint stress. Behaviourally, the selection lines differed in their response during novel object exposure: as predicted, bold birds more frequently approached the novel object and shy birds more strongly decreased overall locomotion during the novel object trial, but birds from both selection lines showed significant and similar frequencies of abnormal repetitive behaviours during novel object exposure. Our findings support the hypothesis that personality emerges as a result of correlated selection on behaviour and underlying endocrine mechanisms and suggest that the relationship between endocrine stress physiology and personality is context dependent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-231
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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