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Study: Wolves, dogs understand inequality

Wolves and domesticated dogs can sense inequality, a new study found.

The animals stopped participating in the experiment if they were not rewarded for a task but a fellow animal was, according to the study by the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

Previous studies on dogs detected a sensitivity to inequality, but it was believed to have resulted from domestication. The new study found that wolves share the same sensitivity, which indicates dogs inherited this ability from their common ancestor, according to the research published in the journal Current Biology.

In the experiments, two animals, one labelled the test animal, the other a partner, were placed in adjacent enclosures. In order to get a reward, the animals had to press a button with their paws.

When the partners received a treat but the test animals either received no treat or a lower quality reward, the test animals stopped participating.

However, when there was only one animal in the experiment, they continued to participate even after receiving no reward for performing the task.

“This showed that the fact that they themselves had not received a reward was not the only reason why they stopped cooperating with the trainer,” said one of the researchers, Friederike Range. “They refuse to cooperate because the other one got something, but they themselves did not.”

Both wolves and dogs reacted similarly in the experiment, although wolves were more sensitive to inequality than dogs.

Wolves that had experienced inequity kept aloof from humans but dogs did not, the researchers found.

“At this point, domestication seems to influence the dogs’ behavior,” Range said. “Their close contact to humans as pets could, thus, rather reduce their behaviour in such situations than trigger it.”

Recognizing inequity is an important social skill in humans and has been shown in different species of primates, the study said. But there has been little research on the topic in other species, according to the authors.

By: David Beasley, Staff Writer

Source: University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

Photo Credit: Robert Bayer

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