Responses to novelty or unfamiliarity: 'cross-context stability'
If stable behaviroal characteristics exist, it should be argued that they are most likely to be expressed in contexts where the animal has no prior knowledge of the circumstances(Mendl&Deag, 1995. Under conditions where the animal has no expectations or learnt rules about how to respond, it needs to revert to any underlying behavioral predispositions it might have. Such situations include encouters with novel or unfamiliar stimuli and circumstances, and it makes adaptive sense for an animal to respond in this 'automatic' way, allowing it to direct full attention to these potentially dangerous situations rather than to organising and moderating its behavior according to perviously learnt rules(cf. Fentres,1976; Mendl&Deag, 1995).
If this argument is correct, one might expect a high degree of ocnsistency of individual or challenging situations. In fact, much of the research on individual differences in behaviour has involved using tests of this sort to examine 'boldness', 'fearfulness', 'timidity', 'emotionality' and so on, perhaps because these tests do indeed tend to produce consistent individual differences (see Sloan-Wilson et al.,1994). Although consistency may be observed in apparently different situations, if all these situations have a similar feature in common (e.g. exposure to novelty), it is questioniable wheter this can be referred to as 'rcoss-context' consistency because the underlying motivation in these situations remains the same (cf. Jensen, 1995).
In the cat, Durr&Smith (1997) showed cross-time consistency in the behavior of cats in a number of different tests of rsponse to novely and unfamiliarity. Cross-situation stability was not formally assessed in this study, but the authors did calculate a median score for each cat across all tests types implying that there was some consistency across tests.
Bradshaw&Cook (1996) studied the organisation of specific behavioural actions made by cats before and after a meal. They found that cats showed individual behavioural styles around feeding, although different behaviours were expressed differently in the pre-and post-feeding contexts. However, behaviours directed towards the unfamiliar observer appeared to show some consistency across both contexts, perhpas due to the novelty of the stranger's presence at mealtime. So, there is limited support for the idea that the same individual may exhibit behaviour in various unfamiliar or novel contexts. However, much more evidence is needed to confirm this hypothesis in cats.