Hu­mans erod­ing dogs’ sense of fair­ness

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

DOGS have their own in­nate sense of fair­ness and didn’t learn this from hu­mans as pre­vi­ously be­lieved, a new study has con­cluded.

In fact, the re­search sug­gests the op­po­site may be true – that dogs have learnt greater ac­cep­tance of in­equitable treat­ment as a re­sult of their close re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple.

In tests, wolves and dogs would both refuse to take part if they re­ceived no re­ward for press­ing a buzzer, while a part­ner an­i­mal got one for do­ing so. The same was true if they re­ceived a lower-qual­ity prize.

It was thought that dogs had learnt the im­por­tance of equal­ity – seen as a so­phis­ti­cated trait found in hu­mans and some pri­mates – dur­ing the do­mes­ti­ca­tion process, but the study found the wolves dis­played a greater reluctance to take part once they re­alised what was go­ing on.

Writ­ing in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy, the re­searchers said the study sug­gested a sense of fair­ness in dogs was “not an ef­fect of do­mes­ti­ca­tion, but rather was main­tained from their an­ces­tors”. They added: “In fact, the re­sults here and in pre­vi­ous stud­ies on pet dogs sug­gest that rather than in­creas­ing dogs’ re­sponse to un­equal treat­ment, their re­la­tion­ship to hu­mans may re­sult in a higher tol­er­ance for un­equal treat­ment, at least from hu­mans.”

The re­searchers noted: “Life­long pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions and train­ing with their hu­man care­givers might pre­vent dogs from re­fus­ing to con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate in the ex­per­i­ment due to their will­ing­ness to please the hu­man ex­per­i­menter.”

They said the dogs in the study had been “highly so­cialised with hu­mans in their first weeks of life” but did not have a pet-owner re­la­tion­ship.

“Nev­er­the­less, they were still more ea­ger to please the hu­man ex­per­i­menter than were the wolves.”

In the tests, dogs and wolves were put in ad­join­ing cages and a trainer then in­structed them to press the buzzer. One of the sci­en­tists, Jen­nifer Essler ex­plained what hap­pened next.

“In the no-re­ward test, only the part­ner got a treat in ev­ery trial. The test an­i­mal got noth­ing,” she said.

“In the qual­ity test, both an­i­mals got a re­ward, but the pre­ferred, and thus higher-qual­ity treat was again given to the part­ner. The abil­ity to re­alise this in­equity be­came ev­i­dent when they (the test an­i­mal) re­fused to con­tinue the ex­per­i­ment.”

An an­i­mal was deemed to be re­fus­ing to co-op­er­ate if it moved away from the buzzer and did not re­spond to 10 com­mands to “press” or “come”. If this hap­pened, the ses­sion was ended. The re­sults of the test in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of prize “con­firm even more clearly that wolves and dogs re­ally un­der­stand in­equity”, Essler added. Tellingly, the an­i­mals were happy to press the buzzer for no re­ward when there was no part­ner there.

“This showed that the fact that they them­selves had not re­ceived a re­ward was not the only rea­son why they stopped to co-op­er­ate with the trainer,” said Essler’s col­league, Dr Friederike Range. “They refuse to co-op­er­ate be­cause the other one got some­thing but they them­selves did not.”

The rank of both dogs and wolves in the pack also had an ef­fect on their re­ac­tions. “High-rank­ing an­i­mals be­come frus­trated more quickly by in­equity be­cause they are not used to this sit­u­a­tion: not re­ceiv­ing some­thing at all or only of lower qual­ity,” Range said. “Thus, the hi­er­ar­chy in their pack is di­rectly linked to their re­ac­tion to in­equity.” – The In­de­pen­dent

It con­firms they re­ally un­der­stand in­equity

CLUED UP: A study shows dogs and wolves’ be­hav­iour is af­fected by con­tact with us.

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