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Ksenya Ocheretnaya
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    Ksenya Ocheretnaya, Olga Gritsenko

Towards cross-cultural taxonomy of animal species according to Big Five concept

Ksenya Ocheretnaya, Olga Gritsenko

Psychology Faculty of Novosibirsk State University, and Research Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics, Novosibirsk, Russia

When we describe people's personality traits, we often use the similes like "hardworking as bee". This approach to description of people is very natural, like it is very natural to us to describe people' size and other morphological traits of people using the similes like "big as elephant". Hrebickova (1997, 2002) analyzed the "Dictionary of Czech Phraseology" (Academia 1983), and selected 173 similes in which personality-relevant adjectives were attributed to animals. Of them, 62 animal similes were classified as dispositions and were sorted into five personality domains (the so-call Big Five). On the request of Arcady Putilov, Martina Hrebickova (Institute of Psychology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic Psychologicky ustav, Akademie ved Ceske republiky, Veveri 97, 602 00 Brno) kindly sent us the English version of the list of similes that she posted at the personality conference in Jena this year (see the abstract of her poster in Appendix 1). We tested to which extent the animal similes from Czech and English languages agree with the concepts of animal characters fixed by the Russian phraseology. We expected that similarity between the similes of these European languages would provide evidence that the universal feature of any human society is the interpretation of species-specific animal behavior in terms of most common human personality traits.

The 40 similes from the Hrebickova's list were translated in Russian (Appendix 2). We asked 15 respondents to evaluate each animal simile on the extent of its correspondence to Russian similes or concept of animal character in Russian culture. There were three choices for response: 1) there is such a simile in Russian, 2) there is no such a simile in Russian, but it is true observation of the character of this animal, and, 3) this is likely to be neither Russian simile nor true observation of this animal character.

For more than a half (21) similes the majority of respondents voted for 3rd (no) response. The 2nd response was chosen by the majority only for 4 items. The residual 15 smiles were reported to be indeed the Russian similes (i.e. most respondents voted for the 1st response).

The similarity between Russian and other two languages in terms of animal similes related to personality traits was found to be unexpectedly low. Every second simile of the list does not show correspondence with what we say in Russian. We expected higher extent of such a correspondence, because we suggest that the European nations are very similar in the way by which they treat animals due to common cultural roots (i.e. shared animal tales) and due to common biological roots (i.e. similarity in genetic basis of their psychological diversity). Nevertheless, more than one-third of similes of the list were found to be the same in three languages. Might be it is not so small, and comparable with the extent of similarities between other European languages. The comparison with other languages including non-Indo-European would show the extent of universality and culture-related specificity in interpretation of animal psychology on their correspondence to human personality traits. Several explanations of cultural and linguistic differences and similarities in treating animal characters might be suggested.