But about 25 arachnid species have swapped the hermit’s hair shirt for a more sociable and cooperative strategy, in which dozens or hundreds of spiders pool their powers to exploit resources that would elude a solo player…In laboratory experiments, the researchers showed that spiders exposed to the same group day after day developed stronger and more distinctive personalities than those that were shifted from one set of spiders to the next. Moreover, the spiders in a stable social setting grew ever less like one another over time.
In other words, far from fostering behavioral conformity, a predictable social life accentuated each spider’s quirks and personal style, rather as the characters in a sitcom — the Goth girl, the huckster, the lovable buffoon — rise ever more to type with every passing laugh-tracked week.
Equally dramatic was the impact of social conditions on the boldness test. Stable spider groups, composed of six spiders that remained together for up to four weeks, showed the greatest variety between individuals, the greatest mix of bold and shy, as well as the highest individual consistency: The pebble-playing times of the boldies grew shorter while those of the timids lengthened. Among shifting spider groups, by contrast, the boldness scores proved far less predictable, as though the spiders didn’t quite know what was expected of them.
I’ve covered some social aspects of spiders before, though have a more complicated social life. The idea that personality evolves through reinforcing already-existing traits has also been explored a little before.