Gene Expression

Canine behavioral economics

The absence of reward induces inequity aversion in dogs:

One crucial element for the evolution of cooperation may be the sensitivity to others’ efforts and payoffs compared with one’s own costs and gains. Inequity aversion is thought to be the driving force behind unselfish motivated punishment in humans constituting a powerful device for the enforcement of cooperation. Recent research indicates that non-human primates refuse to participate in cooperative problem-solving tasks if they witness a conspecific obtaining a more attractive reward for the same effort. However, little is known about non-primate species, although inequity aversion may also be expected in other cooperative species. Here, we investigated whether domestic dogs show sensitivity toward the inequity of rewards received for giving the paw to an experimenter on command in pairs of dogs. We found differences in dogs tested without food reward in the presence of a rewarded partner compared with both a baseline condition (both partners rewarded) and an asocial control situation (no reward, no partner), indicating that the presence of a rewarded partner matters. Furthermore, we showed that it was not the presence of the second dog but the fact that the partner received the food that was responsible for the change in the subjects’ behavior. In contrast to primate studies, dogs did not react to differences in the quality of food or effort. Our results suggest that species other than primates show at least a primitive version of inequity aversion, which may be a precursor of a more sophisticated sensitivity to efforts and payoffs of joint interactions.

Remember that domestic dogs are the only non-human species which can read our facial expressions….


  1. #1 InquilineKea
    December 9, 2008

    Having read Irene Pepperberg’s “Alex and Me”, I’m pretty convinced that parrots also have a version of inequity aversion (Alex would sulk for the rest of the day if Irene gave more attention to the other parrot – Griffin)

  2. #2 AG
    December 9, 2008

    Inequity here is actually similar to communism equality. Reward is not correlated with effort in both situations. Inequality for the same effort is as bad as equality for the same effort. Metaphor: both far right and far left are wrong.