Individual variation and the challenge hypothesis

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In this paper I discuss how the challenge hypothesis (Wingfield et al., 1990) influenced the development of ideas about animal personality, and describe particularly promising areas for future study at the intersection of these two topics. I argue that the challenge hypothesis influenced the study of animal personality in at least three specific ways. First, the challenge hypothesis drew attention to the ways in which the environment experienced by an organism – including the social environment – can influence biological processes internal to the organism, e.g. changes to physiology, gene expression, neuroendocrine state and epigenetic modifications. That is, the challenge hypothesis illustrated the bidirectional, dynamic relationship between hormones and (social) environments, thereby helping us to understand how behavioral variation among individuals can emerge over time. Because the paper was inspired by data collected on free living animals in natural populations, it drew behavioral ecologists' attention to this phenomenon. Second, the challenge hypothesis highlighted what became a paradigmatic example of a hormonal mechanism for a behavioral spillover, i.e. testosterone's pleiotropic effects on both territorial aggression and parental care causes aggression to “spillover” to influence parenting behavior, thereby limiting behavioral plasticity. Third, the challenge hypothesis contributed to what is now a cottage industry examining individual differences in hormone titres and their relationship with behavioral variation. I argue that one particularly promising future research direction in this area is to consider the active role of behavior and behavioral types in eliciting social interactions, including territorial challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104549
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Jul 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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