Can Dogs Evaluate Human Kindness and Generosity?

One of the most amazing things about dogs is that they seem to have at least a small sense of morality. Besides looking totally guilty when they realize they did something bad, a recent study suggests that dogs give preference to people who treat others kindly.

Previous research demonstrated that babies younger than a year old could already learn to judge people by how they interacted with others. That finding led researchers at Kyoto University to investigate whether other animal species might use a similar, innate sense of morality to evaluate social situations. They decided to use dogs and capuchin monkeys by observing their reactions to third-party social evaluations.

In one experiment, the researchers made a group of dogs watch their owners struggle to open a container that contained a toy. After struggling with no success, the dogs then watched their owner turn to two actors — one who either helped them or refused to help, plus another who acted passively.

The dogs were then offered food by the actors. They didn’t seem to show a preference if they were exposed to a helpful actor and a passive actors, but if they were exposed to an unhelpful actor and a passive actor, then the dogs were more likely to accept food from the passive one.

It’s possible that the long history and evolution of dogs may have something to do with their ability to negatively respond to people who are unhelpful to their owners. They may be more sensitive than expected to human behavior — both of their owners, as completely strangers.

As for the monkeys? The researchers discovered that they also negatively evaluate people who refuse to help others. The monkeys were involved a similar experiment, watching an actor struggle to open a container as they turned to another actor who would either help or refuse to help.

When the monkeys were offered food from both actors, they didn’t show a preference between the actor who struggled to open the container and the actor who helped. If the actor refused to help, however, the monkeys were more likely to take the food from the actor who struggled to open the container.

The researchers also tested the monkeys’ ability to judge fairness by making them watch two actors interact together using three different balls. When one actor asked for all three balls from the other actor, the actor with the balls would either give all three balls to the other actor or give none at all.

The monkeys were then offered food by both actors and again showed no preference if the actor with the balls played fairly. However, if the actor had refused to give the balls to to the other participant, then the monkeys were more likely to accept food from the actor who had asked for the balls. Animal behaviorists suggest that wild monkeys use these types of social evaluations to determine which other monkeys they can get along with in their groups.

The results of these experiments suggest that non-human species may have emotional reactions similar to those of human infants, allowing them to engage in third-party based social evaluations. By identifying who exhibits antisocial behavior, they can make choices that serve them best.

So, dog owners — and perhaps monkey owners too — shouldn’t expect their furry family members to judge them based off how they’re treated. They know when you’re being rude or unhelpful to others when in their presence, and they probably don’t like it.

These findings offer just another good reason to be kind to everyone you interact with in your everyday life.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Melania P
Melania P9 months ago

I think they can sense things we cannot

Jerome S
Jerome S10 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim V10 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Telica R
Telica R10 months ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

SK F10 months ago

Dogs know. They can tell a kind spirit better than us humans. If you are concerned about someone, just have your dog "evaluate" their character :)

Colleen W
Colleen W10 months ago

My dogs and even my cats know!!!!!

Amy Ingalls
Amy Ingalls11 months ago

More and more studies are proving what I have always thought-- that animals are more intelligent than humans have given them credit for. My dogs are the best judges of character that I know.

heather g
heather g11 months ago

On a certain route I used to occasionally walk with my poodle, we would pass a friendly drunk (he reeked of booze). My friendly dog used to try and take a wide berth to be out of his reach and pull me past him. Now and then she would avoid others as well - dogs tend to be good judges of character....

natasha s
Past Member 11 months ago

So believe it to be true--pups are amazing animals!

Winn A
Winn A11 months ago

I think dogs are very intuitive.