Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1289–1301 | Cite as

Does effort influence inequity aversion in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus)?

  • Katherine McAuliffe
  • Natalie Shelton
  • Lauren Stone
Original Paper


The human sense of fairness entails sensitivity not just to equality, the equal division of resources, but also to merit, the relationship between an individual’s share of resources and how hard they worked for their share. Recent evidence suggests that our sensitivity to equality has deep phylogenetic roots: several nonhuman animal species show an aversion to unequal reward distributions. However, the extent to which nonhuman animals share sensitivity to merit remains poorly understood, largely because previous studies have failed to properly manipulate work effort in inequity aversion tasks. Here, we tested whether cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) would exhibit a differential response to inequity when acquiring rewards was either (1) effortful or (2) effortless. Subjects engaged in a pulling task in which they had an opportunity to deliver a disadvantageously unequal distribution of food to themselves and a partner (one piece for self, four pieces for partner). We made delivery effortful by adding a weight to the pulling handle. Critically, effort was calibrated to each individual. Results show that individuals varied markedly in their response to effort, highlighting the importance of manipulating work effort at the individual level. Overall, subjects showed little aversion to inequity. However, subjects were slightly less likely to accept inequity when doing so was effortful, although this effect was pronounced in only one individual. Our findings suggest a new method for capturing individual variation in effort and for studying the roots of the concept of merit in nonhuman animals.


Inequity aversion Fairness Merit Cooperation Individual differences 



We are grateful to Kyle Foreman for building the testing apparatus. We thank Jessie Baker, Sarah Bayefsky, Alexandra Kass, Nick López, Clarissa Scholes, Sargent Shriver, Zachary Sulkowski and Courtney Taylor for their help with this study. Thanks also to Marc Hauser for his help designing this experiment. We are grateful to Richard Wrangham, Laurie Santos, Alex Thornton, Kristin Leimgruber and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

10071_2014_764_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (320 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 319 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine McAuliffe
    • 1
    • 2
  • Natalie Shelton
    • 3
  • Lauren Stone
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Harvard CollegeHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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