Dogs Know Fairness and Envy December 11, 2008Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Animal Intelligence, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
This is a busy season—I’d like to do a longer piece on this news item, but this is all you get for now: Researchers (such as Frans de Waal) already knew that humans aren’t the only animals with a sense of fair play, apes know when they’re being shortchanged, too. But now we have to add dogs to the group of animals with some kind of rudimentary understanding of peer equality: All depending on which headlines you’ve read the last couple of days, “Dogs Have a Sense of Fairness,” or “Dogs Can Feel Envy.” That idea alone is interesting, because it illustrates that the Cartesian concept that nonhuman animals are automata with no feelings or reason is rapidly receding into the darkness of philosophical errors of the past. In the National Geographic article
Scott Creel, a behavior ecologist at Montana State University, said the research suggests many social species may have mental processes scientists once believed were unique to humans, or at least primates.
But what is also interesting is the difference between the two reported headlines. “Fairness” obviously evokes a higher understanding of equality, perhaps even of the Golden Rule. “Envy,” now that triggers a less illustrious association to selfishness and self-preservation. Same story, different spin. But either way, it adds to our understanding that social mammals have a much keener sense of group dynamics than philosophers and animal behaviorists used to think. Emotion and intelligence! So it should be clear by now to even the die-hard speciecists that we humans share an emotional-intelligence continuum with our fellow mammalian travelers on this planet.
An afterthought: So when you buy Christmas presents for your dogs, remember that they’ll be watching what the other dog gets…