Friday, July 25, 2014

dogs feel jealousy

psychologytoday | While most people accept that domestic dogs and other nonhuman animals (animals) experience basic emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, joy, happiness, grief, and sadness, some doubt whether dogs are cognitively sophisticated enough to display jealousy, guilt, shame, or embarrassment, the so-called "higher" or "more complex" emotions. However, existing data do not support the claim that they don't.

A new study by Christine Harris and Caroline Prouvost working at the University of California in San Diego called "Jealousy in Dogs" published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows that dogs experience what we call jealousy in humans. This research is also covered here and here and there also are other reports about jealousy in dogs including stories and some research. The abstract for this study reads as follows:

It is commonly assumed that jealousy is unique to humans, partially because of the complex cognitions often involved in this emotion. However, from a functional perspective, one might expect that an emotion that evolved to protect social bonds from interlopers might exist in other social species, particularly one as cognitively sophisticated as the dog. The current experiment adapted a paradigm from human infant studies to examine jealousy in domestic dogs. We found that dogs exhibited significantly more jealous behaviors (e.g., snapping, getting between the owner and object, pushing/touching the object/owner) when their owners displayed affectionate behaviors towards what appeared to be another dog as compared to nonsocial objects. These results lend support to the hypothesis that jealousy has some ‘‘primordial’’ form that exists in human infants and in at least one other social species besides humans.

The article is free online so a brief summary is as follows. To study jealousy in dogs (n = 36), the researchers used a test that is similar to one that is used to study jealousy in human infants. The dogs were videotaped while their owners ignored them and interacted with a stuffed dog that could bark and wag its tail, a novel object (a jack-o-lantern pail), or when they read a children's book aloud. The owners were unaware of the goal of the study.

The results of this very important and carefully done study showed that dogs displayed jealousy (snapping, getting between the owner and the object) when owners showed affection to the stuffed dog, but not when they showed affection to nonsocial objects. The authors conclude that jealousy occurs in species other than humans and that much more comparative research is needed. It is indeed. Furthermore, I like that they adopted an experimental design that is used on prelinguistic humans from whom inferences also have to be made about what they're feeling. As I noted in an interview I did on this research, we have to draw inferences about what nonhuman animals and prelinguistic youngsters are feeling and there is no reason to assume a priori that when we see similar patterns of behavior there isn't a common underlying emotion.