Blog Review: The Differential Biology Reader

The blog reviewed here is ‘The Differential Biology Reader‘ by Mark James Adams. At the time of writing, I thought that visually the blog was very well presented. The background is white throughout which gave a feeling of space and simplicity. A number of blogs have different colour backgrounds for the title pane, articles and side panes. These ‘frames’ within the page still exist but the design demonstrates that they do not necessarily need a clear visual boundary (e.g. colour change) for the separate spaces to be registered by the reader. Another feature of the blog is the use of interesting photographs of monkeys (the subjects of Adams research) with a standardised size which complement the overall design. The blog is effectively indexed with links at the bottom of the page – there were 8 ‘pages’ at the time of writing.

Adams describes himself thus

I am a student of quantitative genetics and a temperamental psychologist. Investigate personality in wild animals. A question I am trying to answer is Why do our personalities differ

Elsewhere, Adams informs the reader that he is studying Japanese Rhesus Macaques  (see here for my recent trip to Maharashtra District, India to observe the Rhesus Macaque here, here, here, here and here). Personality is in my opinion, a very difficult construct to define as it encompasses  (but is not limited to) identity, behaviour, cognition, emotions, social roles, relationships, values as well as debates on the roles of genetics and the environment. I would argue therefore that the study of primates can give us valuable insights into ourselves, on the basis of our close evolutionary relatedness together with an ability to study behaviours in the absence of either a spoken language or the symbolic tools of human civilisation. The chimpanzee and Bonobo would be expected to offer us the greatest insight into ourselves on the basis of evolutionary proximity.

The blog appears to start with this article (which is the earliest I was able to identify) which is dated July 5th 2008. Marks refers in a later post to open access and links to this article at PLOS one in which the researchers examine the relationship between brain activity and anxious temperament in primates. In another article, Marks looks at Imanishi Kanji who apparently developed the field of primatology. Marks notes that some of the articles he examines are not open access which I think is the case with the cited article in this post in which he reports findings that show that ‘Mellow Monkeys have Fewer Friends’. Why do macaques throw stones? – Maybe it’s just spontaneous as suggested in this post

In this article, Marks discusses the five factor model and the reader can try this out on themselves by following the link to the online questionnaire. The first question in studying personality in primates to gain a better understanding of human personality  is whether the concept of a primate personality is valid? This was actually the subject of a symposium described in this article. Along the way Marks makes some interesting comments on science research as in this post in which the statistical analysis of some studies is called into question. What I also found of potential interest is Mark’s reference to tools for creating life charts (as I wondered about the possible applications). He also considers traits in other species as well as cultural differences in personality. Here he reports on a Genome Wide Association Study looking at markers for 5 personality dimensions while also noting that only approximately 1% of variance is accounted for. Here he looks at how paleobiologists and archaeologist graphs of cultural evolution could be misinterpreted. A tool for assessing the personality of a blog was another useful resource. 

In the Differential Biology Reader Blog, Marks focuses on personality in humans and personality in primates (and other species). The blog is well presented, the material interesting and I found lots of useful resources for the study and understanding of personality.


You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link


You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast).


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog


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