Sense Of Injustice In Canines

· November 4, 2018

The Origins of Morality and Empathy

No one is really sure about the origins of morality. Not even in humans. This is an ongoing subject of research and discussions between scientists, philosophers, and religious leaders.

A reliable scientific source argues that humans are neurologically wired to deal with moral issues. This implies that feelings of justice and empathy are not just cultural, but are innate to all humans.

Dog with a sense of injustice, hiding from the problem

That would explain why some people who are born with physiological disorders or have received some sort of head trauma, are unable to show empathy. Consequently, they develop social integration problems and have the habit of isolating themselves.

Morality as an Evolutionary Human Ability

In a similar way to language, the most widely accepted theory is that humans would have developed empathy through evolution.

Primitive human beings realized that they needed to live in communities in order to be stronger and survive. That gave origin to the first rules of coexistence according to what people considered to acceptable in a community.

The people who didn’t comply with what was considered appropriate to the community were exiled and would have less of an opportunity to survive on their own.

As time passed by — along with the growth of societies and the entire human species — the notion of morality underwent quite a few transformations.  When it comes to cultural differences in societies, it’s important not to judge them.

Empathy in Monkeys

Before researching the sense of injustice in dogs, some scientists related humans’ evolutionary abilities with the history of monkeys. These animals attracted a lot of attention from scientists thanks to their remarkable ability to learn and manage a complex society.

Therefore, they performed experiments with different species of monkeys. The objective was to analyze their ability to demonstrate empathy and react to injustices.

The result was still better than expected. They observed that the monkeys stopped eating if one of the other monkeys was harmed during the process. In the same way, they refused to cooperate with any activities when they witnessed an injustice.

That means that monkeys, like humans, are able to differentiate between equality from inequality. Because of this, they can easily detect an injustice when they see one.

These discoveries cut a path for research on other animals’ ethical capacities, revolutionizing classical moral theories.

A Sense of Injustice in Dogs and Wolves: recent studies

After successful experimentations with monkeys, scientists began to consider other mammals that — until after the study — were considered to be “inferior.”

Some studies had already revealed that dogs showed empathy in relation to mammals and humans. The results pointed to the fact that it is due to an ability for social adaptation. It was the result of their historical coexistence with men and other pets.

However, researchers at the University of Vienna revealed that a sense of injustice in dogs and wolves may have a biological foundation. This would mean that these canids’ moral capacities existed prior to domestication.

The experiments involved dogs and wolves that were trained to press a button (buzzer) when told a specific command. They were then able to observe that the animals refused to press the button when they noticed any unfair treatment towards themselves or their companions.

For example, dogs and wolves refused to press the button when offered a smaller reward than their canine partners. They were also resistant when the scientists gave treats to other animals, but not to them.

 Woman hugging a dog

Dogs and wolves refused to continue with the experiment when they became aware of the unjust treatment and relationships.

Social Hierarchy and a Sense of Injustice in Canines

This same experiment verified the remarkable social hierarchy that there is in wolf and dog packs.

The alpha — the pack leader — is clearly more impatient and reluctant when they realized that their treats were inferior.

The fact that of not being able to domesticate wolves has been proved several times. However, they still showed similar behaviors in unjust situations. These scientists’ observations made it possible for them to knock down the notion that a sense of injustice in dogs is due to their domestication.