I am always on the lookout for analogues of human behaviors in other species. Here is a report from PLOS Science through Reuters of a study in which dogs seem to show jealousy. I like the simple design. Pet owners showered affection on a plush animatronic dog (that barks and wags tail etc), held a toy jack-o-lantern, and read aloud while the researchers videotaped their dogs reactions. The dogs made many attempts to gain their humans’ attention during the animatronic dog period, paid little attention during the toy period, and made some effort (much less than during the toy dog period) to gain humans attention when they were reading aloud. This suggested to them the dogs were jealous in a primitive sort of way of the animatronic dog.
Maybe. I wonder if people who own two dogs notice a similar phenomena. I have had my dog try to join in when hugging my wife–jealous or just wanting to share the love? My daughter’s dog (see picture below) is famous for always being available for petting and will position himself so two people can reach him, but I have not seen him with other dogs around focus on the human; he is more interested in the other dog. So I wonder about ecological observations or even in the above design, using another live dog on the owner’s lap. Would the subject dog attend to owner or the other dog? This might clarify for me a suspicion that the owner’s dog in the above design is reacting to a dog with no smell, with no vitality, is maybe even communicating to the owner that something is wrong with that other dog, an incongruous perception of no smell leading to anxious behavior. Oh well. Maybe some of you can shed light on this.
Here is a dog much too dignified to show anything so petty as jealousy.
Looking at the neurological side of this, Jaak Panksepp in his book, Affective Neuroscience, often cited here, says we are a long way from understanding such secondary emotions as jealousy, avarice, etc. He does cite anthropological research showing that societies which show a higher level of affection among parents and children and which permit (sanction?) premarital sex show lower levels of adult aggression. He also cites studies showing the relation of a neurochemical, arginine-vasopressin (AVP), to sexual arousal and heightened aggression to retain sexual partners from others. He also looks at separation distress as a major component in our biological make-up and the role oxytocin plays in diminishing that distress and promoting security of attachment. And he sees AVP and oxytocin as coordinated or counter-balanced in several systems serving complex social behaviors.
So it is of course very complex, this jealousy in humans. Aggression to maintain/control sexual partner in an exclusive relationship? Separation distress at the apprehended loss of secure affection? Like righteous indignation discussed in a post here some time back, a symbolically mediated response shaped by cultural memes and maybe sometimes not so reality oriented? Ah, more questions. I like it.