Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monkeys judge inequity like humans

DeWaal and collaborators expand on previous observations to show that capuchin monkeys get really pissed off if they worked harder for a reward than another monkey, and then see that monkey get a greater reward! This suggests that our human resentment of inequity in rewards my have a very ancient origin in primate behavior. Here is their abstract:
Without joint benefits, joint actions could never have evolved. Cooperative animals need to monitor closely how large a share they receive relative to their investment toward collective goals. This work documents the sensitivity to reward division in brown, or tufted, capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). In addition to confirming previous results with a larger subject pool, this work rules out several alternative explanations and adds data on effort sensitivity. Thirteen adult monkeys exchanged tokens for rewards, showing negative reactions to receiving a less-favored reward than their partner. Because their negative reaction could not be attributed to the mere visibility of better rewards (greed hypothesis) nor to having received such rewards in the immediate past (frustration hypothesis), it must have been caused by seeing their partner obtain the better reward. Effort had a major effect in that by far the lowest level of performance in the entire study occurred in subjects required to expend a large effort while at the same time seeing their partner receive a better reward. It is unclear whether this effort–effect was based on comparisons with the partner, but it added significantly to the intensity of the inequity response. These effects are as expected if the inequity response evolved in the context of cooperative survival strategies.


  1. That link seems to be broken.

  2. thanks, I fixed the link.