Squirrel monkeys' response to inequitable outcomes indicates a behavioural convergence within the primates.
Although several primates respond negatively to inequity, it is unknown whether this results from homology or convergent processes. Behaviours shared within a taxonomic group are often assumed to be homologous, yet this distinction is important for a better understanding of the function of the behaviour. Previous hypotheses have linked cooperation and inequity responses. Supporting this, all species in which inequity responses have been documented are cooperative. In this study, we tested this hypothesis by investigating the response to inequity in squirrel monkeys, which share a phylogenetic family with capuchin monkeys, but do not cooperate extensively. Subjects exchanged tokens to receive food rewards in conditions in which the level of effort required and reward received varied. Squirrel monkeys did not respond negatively to inequity. However, the monkeys were sensitive to the variation present in the task; male subjects showed a contrast effect and, as in previous studies, subjects were more sensitive to differences in reward in the context of a task than when rewards were given for free. Taken with other results, these results support the hypothesis that a negative response to inequity evolved convergently in primates, probably as a mechanism for evaluating outcomes relative to one's partners in cooperative species.