Human beings are known to have a sense of fairness which is vital for us to be able to help others. There is a kind of cooperation law we have silently set up – we will help other people so that they can assist us in return. Our assistance is granted on the basis of these people having helped us in the past or we except a certain help from them in the near future.
The cooperation relies on our ability to keep track of the efforts and payoffs made by others. The sense of fairness strongly helps in this aspect, reports iflScience.
But can we extend the same level of cooperation towards the animals – the non-humans? Are we able to use this sense of fairness so as to differentiate humans from other animals? And, has the sense of fairness also evolved in the non-humans as well?
You need to Treat Animals Fairly
A test has been developed to see if animals can know whether they are being treated unfairly. This test is referred to as the “inequity aversion task”. Two or more subjects are involved – in which the primary subjects are given a reward for completing a task while the other one is given something they wouldn’t like, call it a “booby prize”. The expectation is that if an animal has a strong sense of fair play, it will either exit the experiment or refuse the treat.
Among the test’s pioneers were the brown capuchin monkeys. The monkeys were placed in different adjacent cages and assigned similar tasks. Upon completion of the task, all of them were given similar deserving reward (grape) while one of them – focus of the experiment – got a cucumber for having done the same action. This individual began to “protest” by throwing the unloved vegetable back at the experimenter.
The other capuchin monkeys took notice of the unfairness and showed reluctance in receiving the reward. After all of them ‘worked’ for a reward but did not see the experimental partner being awarded, they stopped their participation.
So far we have seen how the mammalian species despise being sidelined in the favor of their counterparts. But what about the non-mammals? Researchers have come to prefer using the family of corvids in studying cognition in birds.
The corvids are an extended family of birds comprising of ravens, crows, magpies and jays. They are known for their highly social behavior and a well-defined lifestyle within their systems.
By just observing them, it’s possible to spot some form of cooperation amongst these species. They come together to finish up a task and share resources like food and information on an approaching predator. Basing this kind of cooperation, one would logically expect that they have a sense of fairness and unfairness.
The corvids are just like the mammals. They are highly complex and flexible in terms of cooperation and have learnt from evolution the difference between a fair action and what isn’t.