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Scientists Tease Dogs
December 30, 2008 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Dogs get jealous. Or, if you are a scientist, they exhibit inequity aversion.
posted by binturong (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
"inequity aversion"? Sorry. Makes me wish that I could be a dog.

Try having more than one child. Then you are heavy in the soup, pick your battles, jealousy? i'm a no know that. P.S. I have 5 dogs. Yeah, I know. At least I'm not a cat lady.
posted by emhutchinson at 4:51 PM on December 30, 2008


No shock there. I'm watching my parents' boxer get jealous of my dog playing with some toy he himself would never play with right now.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:54 PM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's hard to get in the mood
When you're treated like some kind of dog food
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:58 PM on December 30, 2008


Cats, on the other hand, don't get jealous... the get even.
posted by not_on_display at 5:06 PM on December 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


This was on NPR a week or so back, but I can't find a link.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:06 PM on December 30, 2008


I can't understand why they call it a "provocative study" since it will come as no surprise to any dog owner. There seems to be a reluctance to allow that non-human animals have an emotional life. That doesn't seem very scientific to me since evolution would lead you to expect this kind of overlap in behaviour in social mammals at least.
posted by binturong at 5:08 PM on December 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


[insert snide libertarian comment about wasting money on studies of the blindingly obvious here]
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:11 PM on December 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I cannot understand how, besides the ever-present need for sexy headlines and the wish of pet-lovers everywhere (including myself) to imagine that they have mutually-intelligible conversations with their pets, that this translates into the human emotion of "envy."
posted by desuetude at 5:15 PM on December 30, 2008


I think I speak for all dog owners when I say "Duh".
posted by Joe Beese at 5:24 PM on December 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Envy is not necessarily only a human emotion. People give them selves waaaay too much credit when it comes to self-awareness. My 7-month old puppy has a pretty large vocabulary of understood words, is able to show excitement, anticipation, contrition, regret, fear, happiness, appreciation, and a host of other emotional states. Envy is also blatant when the 12 y.o. dog gets a big bone and he gets a small one, or gets to come inside when he doesn't. He's also developing ways of communicating what he wants or feels, despite not being able to speak "words."

Humans are distinct in that we have 3 things at our disposal that most other species don't -- a ready means of communicating complicated thought due to our tongue throat and lip structure, large brains, and hands. Quite a few other animals have 2 out of 3. We're really nothing special, other than a happy accident that allowed us ascendancy as a dominant species.

Unfortunately, one of the emotions we have yet to relegate to the dustbin is hubris.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:27 PM on December 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


This was not a test of whether dogs exhibit envy. It was a test of whether dogs have a sense of justice. That most American media outlets decided to report the test as being about envy says more about most American media outlets than it does about either dogs or the study.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:34 PM on December 30, 2008 [17 favorites]


After many embarrassing mistakes in the dark dusk of the scientific era, scientists are very very wary about anthropomorphizing animals. It makes many papers on animal behaviour seem pretentious, making them a lot less enjoyable for me.

I can understand this. You can not be sure what happens in another person's mind (just read or listen to some Oliver Sacks for some very entertaining examples), how can you be sure about what happens in the mind (let alone consciousness, yuck) of a member of another species?

On the other hand, we are very closely related to other mammals, and share a lot of brain structures (we have analogous brain structures?), could we share some emotions?

In some podcast (Radiolab or TAL, can't remember), they talk to a scientist who 'discovered' that rats 'laugh'. You could hear the quotation marks in the man's speech, he was very reluctant to say on the record that the rats were laughing, and he was not the first one to notice it, but was the first one to conduct a very exhaustive study showing that the kind of noises the rats were making, and the situations in which they make them, are analogous to human laughter.

This may seem very obvious to anyone who has spent any time with the studied animals, but for scientists, at least the best one, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, you call it a duck analogue, unless you have the feathers in your hand.

I really like it when someone takes the time and effort to conduct studies like this. They get us closer to finally getting rid of the Man Is King of Creation bullshit.
posted by dirty lies at 5:36 PM on December 30, 2008 [9 favorites]


The human emotion of envy? It's all biology, something humans have no copyright on.

When all higher reason and sense of judgment has left us, we still have things like love, sadness, anger and jealousy. Just because dogs can't write poems about their envy doesn't make them emotionless robots.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:37 PM on December 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


It was a test of whether dogs have a sense of justice.

What percentage of humans would fail that test? You could just pick a particular group of dogs who were like corporate CEOs emotionally, and the study would be shot all to hell.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:38 PM on December 30, 2008


Damn, I only copypasted part of my comment, and it is already too long.

I can't understand why they call it a "provocative study" since it will come as no surprise to any dog owner.

Tell this to the people who a)Believe Man is the King of Creation, b)Don't believe in a, but still don't believe in evolution, c)Believe in evolution, but still believe there is a quantum leap in consciousness or self awareness between man and any other animal. There are many people like that.

In my very limited experience trying to explain evolution to others, starting with something that obviously gives an organism an advantage, like "being able to detect movement" and moving up to more complex organs and behaviours is easy to accept, all the way to the great apes, but once you move to humans, all kinds of defenses come up.

This kind of study gives dog owners too options, either your dog has emotions like you (duh, it does), and then what about rodents, birds or lizards; or it doesn't, and maybe you don't either.
posted by dirty lies at 5:44 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Actually the article is explicit that it is not a sense of "justice" that they found. If it were a sense of justice, the rewarded dog would have objected that the unrewarded dog was treated unfairly. They found only that the unrewarded dog would sulk, this selfish version of "justice" is well in line with what you would expect of the caricature of a venal corporate CEO.
posted by idiopath at 5:47 PM on December 30, 2008


Fred Clark suggests that dogs actually have a sense of justice:
The researchers might have conducted a parallel study while carrying out this research. They could have hired two graduate assistants, telling each of them that they would be paid $100 at the end of each day's research. And then, at the end of each day, they could have paid the first assistant, but not the second -- not the underdog. My theory is that the underdog would quickly become "less and less inclined" to continue showing up for work.
posted by Pants! at 5:47 PM on December 30, 2008


scientists are very very wary about anthropomorphizing animals

I know some monkeys with the tops of their skulls missing who might wish for one more "very".
posted by Joe Beese at 5:47 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Envy and jealousy, while often related, are not the same thing. The author of the article was seemingly mindful enough not to use those two words interchangeably, even though in common discourse we usually do; and, based on the article, the scientists also seemed to be discerning a difference.

That said, cats get jealous too. My formerly "only child" boy cat will attack my "interloper" girl cat within five minutes of me just saying her name. It's at the point now where as soon as I say her name she looks around to see where the other cat is. Not a lot of science there.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:53 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


dirty lies:
Mentioned Radiolab episode available here.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:06 PM on December 30, 2008


Thanks for the link six-or-six-thirty, I am listening again.

I just realized how many times I used "very". I blame my poor language skills, the cold I just got, and the DXM I am taking.
posted by dirty lies at 6:16 PM on December 30, 2008


I just realized how many times I used "very". I blame my poor language skills, the cold I just got, and the DXM I am taking.

That's no excuse. You think this is some sort of game? Man, this is real life! I'm trying to make a living here!

You know, sometimes it's not even worth getting out of bed in the morning ...
posted by krinklyfig at 6:41 PM on December 30, 2008


Wait. Is this the thread about the credit card numbers?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2008


I think anyone who owns a dog and any other pet knows that a dog can get jealous. Pay attention to the other pet, and what dog won't come and squeeze in between, trying to get some of that love?
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:53 PM on December 30, 2008


this was not a test of whether dogs exhibit envy. It was a test of whether dogs have a sense of justice.

i wonder if it was either, the test doesn't seem to confirm it one way or another, all it shows is that dogs expect a reward for X if another dog is rewarded for X but give up on X when it's not rewarded, that could mean anything.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:16 PM on December 30, 2008


I read that slaktavist post too.

What percentage of humans would fail that test? You could just pick a particular group of dogs who were like corporate CEOs emotionally, and the study would be shot all to hell.

The question was whether or not the dogs would feel a sense of injustice when treated unfairly. I'm sure all humans would pass that test.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 PM on December 30, 2008


How old is the saying "dog in the manger"? 2500 years or so?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:55 PM on December 30, 2008


My favorite analysis of the frequent complaint that scientists like to state the obvious suggested that people tend to regard even contradictory research results as obvious. That is, whatever you discover, people will say they already knew it.

The anti-corollary is that whatever tosh people publish, readers will think it must be true if you so much as mention science. Or numbers.

And behaviorism still lurks in much of animal studies, and I think should be dealt with by assuming that it is impossible to tell if human beings actually have emotions or whether they are just emotion analogues.
posted by Peach at 7:59 PM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


How old is the saying "dog in the manger"?

"The phrase is quite old and is first cited in William Bullein's A dialogue against the feuer pestilence, 1564:

"Like vnto cruell Dogges liyng in a Maunger, neither eatyng the Haye theim selues ne sufferyng the Horse to feed thereof hymself.""

Gotta love that olde English!

However, I don't think the dog in this test is being a dog in the manger. I think he's smart enough to realize he's getting a raw deal and stops playing.

all it shows is that dogs expect a reward for X if another dog is rewarded for X but give up on X when it's not rewarded, that could mean anything.

Except in the control (without a second dog), the dog continues to raise its paw for no reward at all.
posted by binturong at 9:02 PM on December 30, 2008


hell, even William S Burroughs knew this back in the day when he warned young parents to keep an eye on Fido when they brought the new baby home. To tell you the truth I don't think Uncle Bill cared for dogs much.
posted by edgeways at 9:37 PM on December 30, 2008


My dog is pretty smart but sometimes I doubt his mammalian cunning. For example, he learned how to use the knob to open our back door and only steals my left-foot flip-flops, but he also barked at a leaf for an hour one night, and sometimes eats trash.
posted by mmmleaf at 9:58 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Let me also express the general comment of Duh.

My dog Rosa wont sit in the back of the bus when we go places.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:02 PM on December 30, 2008


I felt so bad for the border collie I couldn't even watch the whole video.

I now need a follow-up study to tell me that even in the face of such stark treat injustice, the border collie's emotional upset is easily rectified with a sausage roll and a brisk belly rub, and her faith in her human companions is fully restored as if this whole event had never occurred.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:07 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


In some podcast (Radiolab or TAL, can't remember), they talk to a scientist who 'discovered' that rats 'laugh'. You could hear the quotation marks in the man's speech, he was very reluctant to say on the record that the rats were laughing, and he was not the first one to notice it, but was the first one to conduct a very exhaustive study showing that the kind of noises the rats were making, and the situations in which they make them, are analogous to human laughter.

"So then we decided to tickle the rats ..."
The researcher seems to be fairly ready to believe that rats laugh, according to that video and this NY Times blog post: "Although some still regard laughter as a uniquely human trait, honed in the Pleistocene, the joke’s on them."

The full study is behind a pay wall now, but here's my still-favourite excerpt: "Although no one has investigated the possibility of rat humor, if it exists, it is likely to be heavily laced with slapstick. Even if adult rodents have no well-developed cognitive sense of humor, young rats have a marvelous sense of fun. We have already bred rats that exhibit playful chirping, and thereby hope to track down some of the genes for joy."
posted by maudlin at 12:07 AM on December 31, 2008


Unemployed Scientists Prove Dog Likes Beer. Now THAT'S news.
posted by Bageena at 5:34 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow that was brutal, poor border collie!
posted by SneakyArab at 7:45 AM on December 31, 2008


We can't possibly know if the emotion I experience as "envy" is the same as the emotion you experience as envy; and even if it is, it doesn't necessarily affect our behavior to the same degree, depending on how important the thing is to each of us, how in control of our own enviousness we are, and various other opaque factors like how much we think the other deserves the thing envied and how much we know about the circumstances of the reward. To that extent, each of us is unique and isolated. It's a variation on the "I see trees as my green, but do you see them as my red?" problem.

On the other hand, if the emotion generally leads us to the same behaviors and to express the same kind of conclusions, it's reasonable to say it's the same emotion. This is the standard we apply to each other, and it's reasonable to apply that same standard to any animal whose behavior is generally the same, in the context, as our own would be. This isn't "anthropomorphising", it's recognition of similarity in the data. Failure to do so is unscientific, especially when prompted by frankly stupid reasons like species chauvinism.

"So then we decided to tickle the rats ..."
The least cruel animal experiment of all time. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:50 AM on December 31, 2008


TochterAusElysium : I think anyone who owns a dog and any other pet knows that a dog can get jealous. Pay attention to the other pet, and what dog won't come and squeeze in between, trying to get some of that love?

I'd love to do a time-lapse of me and my wife watching TV. It would go something like this:

Cat wanders onto bed, cat is now sitting behind wife nestled in her hair. Another cat walks into room now sitting on my lap, actively ignoring my wife and other cat. Dog comes in room, sits on end of bed, sits on my feet, sits on my knees, avoids slap from cat in lap, sits on wife's feet, sits on wife's knees, sprawls across wife's knees and my feet. Another cat comes into room, sees dog, tries to get in my lap, sees cat, sulks, starts knocking stuff off shelf, other dog sees stuff falling starts barking at cat on shelf, cat in lap takes offense, chases dog, dog gets excited, chases cat, chaos ensues...

It's not just dogs, though they are particularly obvious about their feelings of being neglected in favor of another animal. Cats and birds will do similar stuff too. I'm glad they are trying to document this kind of stuff using the method, but this really isn't a serious surprise to anyone who has interacted with multiple pets at once.
posted by quin at 8:55 AM on December 31, 2008


This is not a scientific study of jealousy, because all they are testing is the dogs' expectations of how humans will behave, based on their primary conditioning. If you read the study details, both dogs have been trained as household pets, to "give paw" on command.
In other words, the border collie, quite rightly, has its union rule book out and is protesting with a work-to-rule. The rules are that they both expect to be rewarded if they do "work." If there are no food rewards, the reward may be a pat on the head, or a "good boy/girl." But if there are food rewards, they are given in return for the work. As any dog owner will tell you, this is not envy/jealousy, but a good old sulk that the human is breaking the rules.
In the second experiment, there are no food rewards (food may be present, but a family pet soon learns that all food is not intended for them, no matter its proximity). So the dog keeps on performing. But once the dog sees another dog rewarded, it knows that there are food rewards available and so will work-to-rule until their employer abides by the contract previously negotiated through custom and practice.
posted by Susurration at 7:45 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


The dog stops shaking it's paw when it doesn't get a treat? That's not envy, that's sense.
posted by Solomon at 11:37 AM on January 1, 2009


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