Octopi Personalities and Talk Therapy

Here’s my favorite section of an otherwise typically biologically reductionistic article:

As evolutionary theory would predict, you don’t have to be a person to have a personality. Four of the five factors (apart from conscientiousness, a cognitively complex trait) have been identified in more than sixty species, not only in our fellow primates but also in bears, dogs, pigs, hyenas, goats, cats and even the octopus. For anyone wondering how researchers study octopus personality, the answer is simple. They drop dinner (a crab) into a tank of octopuses and watch what they do. Some octopuses will aggressively grab their dinner at once. Some are more passive and wait for the crab to swim near them. And some are devious; they wait and attack the crab when no one is watching. These “personality dispositions” among octopuses can be reliably identified by independent observers.

It certainly calls into question some of the premises of various talk therapies, but (a) doesn’t address the importance of relationship and meaning making in human encounters (b) doesn’t discount possible adjustments made possible by talk therapy (c) overloads praise on cognitive-behavioral therapies (probably because they are more ‘verifiable’.)

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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