Humans often respond negatively when receiving a less good outcome than another (inequity), a behavior which is hypothesized to be a mechanism to support successful cooperation. First documented by Brosnan & de Waal (2003, Nature) in capuchin monkeys, we have since found evidence that several primate species respond negatively if they receive a less good reward than a social partner for completing the same task. This requires the individuals to take in to account both their own and their partners' rewards or procedures, and make assessments of their outcome based upon these parameters. We have found in particular that this response is contingent upon a task, and does not occur when rewards are provided for free. Moreover, among most primates, while effort seems to enhance the response, individuals are more sensitive to different rewards than to different levels of effort.

While this indicates that the behavior is not unique to humans, it does not provide an evolutionary explanation for the emergence of inequity responses due to the behavioral similarities among the initial species studied, capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees. Thus the inequity response could be due to either an evolutionary homology or a convergence based on one or more of these traits. To address this, we have recently tested several additional primate species (orangutans, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys and common marmosets) which differ on these dimensions, using the same paradigm as in previous work in my lab. We find that these other species do not show responses to inequity, indicating that the response is a convergent behavior which likely emerged in the context of cooperation amongst non-kin not from the same family group. Knowing the conditions under which inequity responses evolved allows for a better understanding of the behavior and how it may influence cooperation.

Relevant Publications

Brosnan, SF (2013). Justice and fairness related behaviors in non-human primates. PNAS 110: 10416-10423.

Freeman, H., Sullivan, J., Hopper, L., Talbot, C., Holmes, A., Schultz-Darken, N., Williams, LE, Brosnan, SF.(2013) Different responses to reward comparisons by three primate species. PLOS ONE. 8(10): e76297.

Hopper L.M., Lambeth S.P., Schapiro S.J. & Brosnan S.F. (2013). When given the opportunity, chimpanzees maximize personal gain rather than “level the playing field”PeerJ. 1: e165

Hopper, L.M., Lambeth, S.P., Schapiro, S.J., Bernacky, B.J. & Brosnan, S.F. (2013). The ontogeny of social comparisons in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Journal of Primatology 2: 109

Raihani, N. J., McAuliffe, K., Brosnan, S. F., & Bshary, R. (2012). Are cleaner fish, Labroides dimidiatus, inequity averse?. Animal Behaviour.

Brosnan, S. F., & de Waal, F. B. (2012). Fairness in Animals: Where to from Here?. Social Justice Research, 1-16.

Price, S. A., & Brosnan, S. F. (2012). To each according to his need? Variability in the responses to inequity in non-human primates. Social Justice Research, 1-30.

Brosnan, S. F., Flemming, T., Talbot, C. F., Mayo, L., & Stoinski, T. (2011). Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) Do Not Form Expectations Based on Their Partner's Outcomes. Folia Primatologica, 82(1), 56-70. doi: 10.1159/000328142

Brosnan, S. F. (2011). A hypothesis of coevolution between cooperation and responses to inequity. [Hypothesis & Theory]. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2011.00043.

Talbot, C. F., Freeman, H. D., Williams, L. E., & Brosnan, S. F. (2011). Squirrel monkeys' response to inequitable outcomes indicates a behavioural convergence within the primates. Biology Letters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0211.

Brosnan, S. F., Talbot, C., Ahlgren, M., Lambeth, S. P., Schapiro, S.J. (2010). Mechanisms underlying responses to inequitable outcomes in chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. Animal Behaviour 79, 1229-1327. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.02.019.

Brosnan, S. F., Houser, D., Leimgruber, K., Xiao, E., Chen, T., de Waal, F. B. M. (2010). Competing demands of prosociality and equity in monkeys. Evolution and Human Behavior xx.

van Wolkenten, Megan, Brosnan, Sarah F., and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2007) Inequity responses of monkeys modified by effort. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 18854-18859.

Brosnan, Sarah F. (2006) Nonhuman species' reactions to inequity and their implications for fairness. Journal
of Socia
l Justice 19: 153-185.

Brosnan, Sarah F., Freeman, Cassie, and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2006) Capuchin monkey's (Cebus apella) reactions to inequity in an unrestricted barpull situation. American Journal of Primatology 68: 713-724.

Brosnan, Sarah F., Schiff, Hillary C., and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2005) Tolerance for inequity may increase with social closeness in chimpanzees.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 1560: 253-258.

Brosnan, Sarah F. and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2004) Reply to "Inequity aversion in capuchins". Nature 428: 140.

Brosnan, Sarah F. and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2003) Monkeys reject unequal pay. Nature 425: 297-299.