Skip to main content

Does inequity aversion depend on a frustration effect? A test with capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella)

A Correction to this article was published on 20 December 2021

This article has been updated


Brosnan and de Waal (Nature 425:297–299, 2003) reported that if a witness monkey saw a model monkey receive a high-value food, the witness was more inclined to reject a previously acceptable, but low-value food. Later work demonstrated that this alleged inequity aversion might be due to frustration induced by switching subjects from their role as models receiving a high-value food to the role of witnesses receiving a low-value food. In the present study, pairs of female capuchins exchanged a token for either a high- or a low-value food without switching their model–witness roles. Witnesses could exchange a token for a low-value food after an adjacent model had exchanged a token for the same food (Equity Condition) or for a high-value food (Inequity Condition). Failure- and latency-to-exchange measures showed that witnesses were unaffected by the food type offered to models (no inequity aversion). Moreover, models were unaffected by their history of food type offered (no frustration). These results join earlier work suggesting that alleged inequity effects depend on frustration-induction procedures. Furthermore, inequity effects sometimes fail to emerge because frustration induction in nonhuman primates is labile.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Change history


  • Amsel A, Roussel J (1952) Motivational properties of frustration: I. Effect on a running response of the addition of frustration to the motivational complex. J Exp Psychol 43:363–368

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bräuer J, Call J, Tomasello M (2006) Are apes really inequity averse? Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 273:3123–3128

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brosnan SF, de Waal FBM (2003) Monkeys reject unequal pay. Nature 425:297–299

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brosnan SF, de Waal FBM (2006) Partial support from a nonreplication: comment on Roma, Silberberg, Ruggiero, and Suomi (2006). J Comp Psychol 120:74–75

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brosnan SF, Schiff HC, de Waal FBM (2005) Tolerance for inequity may increase with social closeness in chimpanzees. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 272:253–258

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burkart JM, Fehr E, Efferson C, van Schaik CP (2007) Other-regarding preferences in a non-human primate: common marmosets provision food altruistically. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:19762–19766

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Dachowski L, Brazier MM (1991) Consummatory incentive contrast: experiment design relationships and deprivation effects. In: Dachowski L, Flaherty CF (eds) Current topics in animal learning: brain, emotion and cognition. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 245–270

    Google Scholar 

  • Dindo M, de Waal FBM (2007) Partner effects on food consumption in brown capuchin monkeys. Am J Primatol 69:1–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dubreuil D, Gentile M, Visalberghi E (2006) Are capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) inequity averse? Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 273:1223–1228

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fehr E, Schmidt KM (1999) A theory of fairness, competition and cooperation. Q J Econ 114:817–868

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flaherty CF (1996) Incentive relativity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher GE (2008) Attending to the outcome of others: disadvantageous inequity aversion in male capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Am J Primatol 70:901–905

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fontenot MB, Watson SL, Roberts KA, Miller RW (2007) Effects of food preferences on token exchange and behavioural responses to inequality in tufted capuchin monkeys, Cebus apella. Anim Behav 74:487–496

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Henrich J (2004) Inequity aversion in capuchins? Nature 428:139

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Moody DB, Stebbins WC, Iglauer C (1971) Auditory generalization gradients for response latency in the monkey. J Exp Anal Behav 16:105–111

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Riley EA, Dunlap WP (1979) Successive negative contrast as a function of deprivation condition following shifts in sucrose concentration. Am J Psychol 92:59–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roma PG, Silberberg A, Ruggiero AM, Suomi SJ (2006) Capuchin monkeys, inequity aversion, and the frustration effect. J Comp Psychol 120:67–73

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Silk JB, Brosnan SF, Vonk J, Henrich J, Povinelli DJ, Richardson AF, Lambeth SP, Mascaro J, Schapiro SJ (2005) Chimpanzees are indifferent to the welfare of other group members. Nature 435:1357–1359

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spealman RD (1978) Interactions in multiple schedules: negative induction with squirrel monkeys. J Exp Anal Behav 30:315–327

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Wolkenten M, Brosnan SF, de Waal FBM (2007) Inequity responses of monkeys modified by effort. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:18854–18859

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wynne CDL (2004) Fair refusal by capuchin monkeys. Nature 428:140

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alan Silberberg.

Additional information

This study complied with protocols approved by the Italian Health Ministry and all procedures were performed in full accordance with the European law on humane care and use of laboratory animals.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Silberberg, A., Crescimbene, L., Addessi, E. et al. Does inequity aversion depend on a frustration effect? A test with capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Anim Cogn 12, 505–509 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Inequity aversion
  • Frustration effect
  • Token exchange
  • Capuchins