Not long ago, we reported on a study that suggested babies as young as 6 months old have an innate sense of morality. Now, another study has looked into whether that applies to animals, such as dogs and monkeys. It turns out yes, both judge humans on how they treat other people, and both prefer us when we are nice, helpful, and fair.
Both animals displayed a preference for helpfulness in humans, and though the monkeys appeared to show a preference for fairer people, your dog is definitely still judging you.
The researchers from Kyoto University, Japan, suggest in their paper published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews that these types of judgment of behaviors could help us understand the origins of human morality.
The team carried out a series of experiments where humans acted out various behavioral scenarios and made the animals watch, to test how the animals reacted to human interactions. In one of the scenarios, an actor struggled to open a can and asked for help from a second person, who either helped or refused. Sometimes a third person passively watched, but did not get involved.
Afterward, the researchers got all three actors to offer treats to the animals who had been watching, and they reported that after all the experimental scenarios, all of the animals showed a clear disinclination to accept a treat from the person who refused to help, compared to those who were helpful and even the passive players.
According to lead author James Anderson, the tests showed that both monkeys and dogs make social judgments in a similar way to human children, primitive instinctive evaluations that may be the root to understanding our own sense of morality.
“If somebody is behaving antisocially, they probably end up with some sort of emotional reaction to it,” he told New Scientist. “In humans, there may be this basic sensitivity towards antisocial behavior in others. Then through growing up, inculturation and teaching, it develops into a full-blown sense of morality.”