National Public Radio is reporting on a new study that finds indications of fairness and jealousy in dogs. The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at how dogs react when another dog is rewarded for the same trick in an unequal way.
Friederike Range, a researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria, and her colleagues did a series of experiments with dogs who knew how to respond to the command “give the paw,” or shake. The dogs were normally happy to repeatedly give the paw, whether they got a reward or not. But that changed if they saw that another dog was being rewarded with a piece of food, while they received nothing. “We found that the dogs hesitated significantly longer when obeying the command to give the paw,” the researchers write. The unrewarded dogs eventually stopped cooperating.
This is another study strongly suggesting that traits we consider uniquely human aren’t really so unique after all, and certainly not exclusive to humans. Primatologist Frans de Waal really cracked the code on this a few years ago in a study that found potent indications of fairness in monkeys.
Monkeys had to hand a small rock to researchers to get a piece of food in return. Monkeys were happy to do this to get a piece of cucumber. But the monkeys would suddenly act insulted to be offered cucumber if they saw that another monkey was getting a more delicious reward, a grape, for doing the same job. “The one who got cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, threw out the rock that we exchanged with them, and at some point just stopped performing,” says de Waal.
Granted, the monkeys’ reaction in the experiment was, predictably, more complex than the dogs’. The dogs were happy to just get any sort of food reward – the monkeys got snobby over cucumber. Tsk tsk.
Here’s a link to the AP story with a bit more information.
Here’s a link to a terrific Q&A with Frans de Wall in the New York Times.