New research published in the journal Psychological Science finds that dogs exhibit jealous behaviors when they merely imagine that their owner is interacting with a potential rival, in this case, a highly realistic artificial dog.
“Research has supported what many dog owners firmly believe—dogs exhibit jealous behavior when their human companion interacts with a potential rival,” said Amalia Bastos with the University of Auckland and lead author on the paper in a press release. “We wanted to study this behavior more fully to determine if dogs could, like humans, mentally represent a situation that evoked jealousy.”
Past surveys have shown that more than 80% of dog owners reported observing jealous behaviors, such as vocalizations, acting agitated or pulling on a leash—when they give attention to other dogs.
This short and fun-to-watch video describes how the researchers studied jealousy in dogs for the newest research:
Video Credit: University of Auckland
Dogs appear to be one of the few species that might display jealous behaviors in ways similar to a human child showing jealousy when their mother gives affection to another child. In humans, jealousy is closely linked with self-awareness, which is one reason animal-cognition researchers are interested in studying jealousy and other emotions in animals.
As shown in the above video, the researchers presented 18 dogs with situations where they could imagine a social interaction between their human companion and either a realistic fake dog or a fleece cylinder.
In the experiment, the dogs observed the fake-dog rival positioned next to their owner. A barrier was then placed between the dog and the potential rival, obscuring them from view.
The dogs forcefully attempted to reach their owners when they appeared to stroke the rival fake dog behind the barrier.
In a repeat experiment using a fleece cylinder rather than a fake dog, the dogs pulled on the lead with far less force.
Bastos and her colleagues found that dogs showed three human-like signatures of jealous behavior:
- Jealous behavior emerged only when their owner interacted with a perceived social rival and not an inanimate object;
- occurred as a consequence of that interaction and not due to a potential rival’s mere presence;
- and emerged even for an out-of-sight interaction.
“There is still plenty of work to do to establish the extent of the similarities between the minds of humans and other animals, especially in terms of understanding the nature of nonhuman animals’ emotional experiences,” said Bastos. “It is too early to say whether dogs experience jealousy as we do, but it is now clear that they react to jealousy-inducing situations.”
Bastos, A. P. M., Neilands, P. D., Hassal, R. S., Lim, B. C., & Taylor A. H. (2021). Dogs mentally represent jealousy-inducing social interactions. Psychological Science. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620979149
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