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Background: Recently, much attention has been paid to the role of cooperative breeding in the evolution of behavior. In many measures, cooperative breeders are more prosocial than non-cooperatively breeding species, including being more likely to actively share food. This is hypothesized to be due to selective pressures specific to the interdependency characteristic of cooperatively breeding species. Given the high costs of finding a new mate, it has been proposed that cooperative breeders, unlike primates that cooperate in other contexts, should not respond negatively to unequal outcomes between themselves and their partner. However, in this context such pressures may extend beyond cooperative breeders to other species with pair-bonding and bi-parental care.

Methods: Here we test the response of two New World primate species with different parental strategies to unequal outcomes in both individual and social contrast conditions. One species tested was a cooperative breeder (Callithrix spp.) and the second practiced bi-parental care (Aotus spp.). Additionally, to verify our procedure, we tested a third confamilial species that shows no such interdependence but does respond to individual (but not social) contrast (Saimiri spp.). We tested all three genera using an established inequity paradigm in which individuals in a pair took turns to gain rewards that sometimes differed from those of their partners.

Conclusions: None of the three species tested responded negatively to inequitable outcomes in this experimental context. Importantly, the Saimiri spp responded to individual contrast, as in earlier studies, validating our procedure. When these data are considered in relation to previous studies investigating responses to inequity in primates, they indicate that one aspect of cooperative breeding, pair-bonding or bi-parental care, may influence the evolution of these behaviors. These results emphasize the need to study a variety of species to gain insight in to how decision-making may vary across social structures.


This article was originally published in the open access journal PLoS ONE. Copyright © 2013 Freeman et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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