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Dec. 9, 2008 — Dogs can feel a simple form of envy, researchers have found.
Experiments with various species have shown that monkeys often
express resentful behavior when a partner receives a greater reward for
performing an identical task. Monkeys have been shown to stage strikes,
refusing to participate and ignoring what they perceive as inferior
compensation. Dogs are capable of similar, though less sensitive,
discrimination, report Friederike Range and colleagues.
The researchers conducted experiments with pairs of domestic dogs
accompanied by their owners. While the partner and subject dogs sat
next to each other with their owner standing behind them, each dog was
prompted to put its paw in the experimenter's hand, and upon complying,
given a piece of sausage or bread.
Compared to a variety of control situations, the dogs reacted
differently to unfair reward distribution, as measured by their
reaction when the partner was given food for the task, but the subject
was not. This resentment was quantified in the number of times the
experimenters had to prompt the animals, or the number of times the dog
would perform the task before refusing. The dogs did not appear to care
exactly what reward they were given, or whether the partner did or did
not have to perform the task before receiving food.
Dog envy may be an evolutionary precursor to more sophisticated primate emotion, the researchers say.
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