If you have a high metabolism, you are more likely to have personality traits that will draw you to a five-mile run or a game of tennis.
On the flip side, if you have a slow metabolism, the couch may look much more appealing to you.
A recent article published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution suggests that there is now enough research to back the concept that a fundamental link exists between an individual’s personality and their capacity to exercise or generate energy.
The review article, written by Dr. Peter Biro, a senior lecturer in the University of New South Wale’s Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, with colleague Judy Stamps of the University of California, Davis, notes that humans are not the only animals that choose to exercise. Individuals within the same animal species often differ in their levels of activity.
“Some of us are couch potatoes while others are drawn to sport and exercise,” Biro points out. “We often associate the athletic ‘jock’ type or person with being aggressive and social, whereas the more sedentary ‘nerd’ often is seen as more socially awkward and submissive.”
He adds that while these points are generalizations, a large share of the population would likely agree there is some truth to them. “If so, why should individuals differ in their propensity for activity and in their personality, and why might they be related?” he asks.
Recent research now reveals that animals have their own personality traits because they consistently demonstrate differences in behaviors. Biro believes it is significant that those behaviors often relate to the rates at which they acquire and expend energy through feeding or activity.
The article reviews a wide range of recent research and points to an inherent link between personality and metabolism – the chemical process that converts food into the energy that fuels the body.
“Animals in captivity often engage in energetically demanding behavior when they have unlimited food available,” Biro says. “Mice spend considerable time on running wheels, for example, and other animals often pace back and forth in zoo enclosures. Given they don’t need to move about in search of food as they would in nature, we might ask why they are apparently exercising.”
Biro points out that according to research findings, this behavior could be related to an individual’s metabolic capacity. For example, mice in isolation that have high metabolism tend spend more time on running wheels, and run faster, than those with low metabolism.
“Male crickets with sex on their mind tend to call to attract mates more and have higher metabolism than those with slower metabolism,” he adds.
Aggression has also been linked to metabolism in numerous studies. There are documented studies that depict higher aggression in numerous species of fish and birds where there also existed a higher metabolism. These animals had a tendency to be more aggressive and dominant over their counterparts with slow metabolism.
Biro notes that the differences in energetic capacity in individual animals alongside consistent tendencies for metabolism could provide a very general explanation for personality.
“It may just be that some individuals generate much more energy than others and when those individuals are captive with abundant food, they must outlet ‘excess’ energy that is normally expressed in nature in activities such as feeding and defense of food supplies,” he said.”We are still some ways from a really solid understanding of the links between metabolism and personality in animals, but recent research suggests these ideas have merit and are worth studying further.”