Date of Award

Fall 12-21-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Joshua Plotnik

Second Advisor

Dr. Diana Reiss

Academic Program Adviser

Dr. Diana Reiss


Inequity aversion, a negative response to situations of unequal reward distribution, is a cognitive trait usually seen in social species. This capacity is thought to regulate cooperative relationships in intelligent, cognitively flexible animals. Giant pandas are a unique case in that wild populations are characterized as nonsocial, however captive populations are socially housed until sexual maturity. This allows for the study of a nonsocial species in a social context and thus the assessment of socio-cognitive flexibility across evolutionarily distant taxa. Here, we assessed whether the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) displays inequity aversion by testing ten juveniles living at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. Traditionally in an equity aversion paradigm, the quality or quantity of the reward offered to the subject is less than that offered to the partner. For this study, effort inequity was used instead due to the limited variety in the giant pandas’ diet as well as to further verify this less studied kind of inequity. We tested pandas in an effort inequity paradigm by assessing their responses to several testing conditions: social inequity (two pandas, unequal effort, equal reward), social equity (two pandas, equal effort, equal reward), non-social inequity (one panda, unequal effort, equal reward) and non-social equity (one panda, equal effort, equal reward). In the social inequity condition, the partner was given a piece of apple for free before the subject was cued to perform a hind-leg stand in order to receive a piece of apple. Performance was recorded as positive responses to a cue and latency to complete the trained behavior, a hind-leg stand. Rates of frustration-related behaviors displayed during sessions were also recorded to make judgments on the pandas’ emotional state in reaction to the situation. We found no statistical significance across conditions, although one panda’s performance on inequity trials was suggestive of inequity aversion. Further testing is required to elucidate the context necessary to elicit this response as well as what individual differences might be involved that influence an individual’s propensity to display inequity aversion.



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