Lina Oberließen

Animal trainer & deputy Head of Science


After having finished my studies of (human) psychology in winter 2012 I did a really inspiring research internship at the Wolf Science Center and somewhat switched my focus of interest from humans to animals. During this internship I figured out that I would like to keep working in the field of comparative behavioral research. So I initiated a cooperation between my home university in Düsseldorf (Germany) and the Wolf Science Center which was appreciated by both sides. Luckily I could also convince the German Academic Scholarship Foundation of this plan so that they provided the funding of my PhD.

In my project I'm dealing with inequity aversion (or the preference for equity) in different social animal species notably focusing on direct decisions between equitable and inequitable reward distributions. On the one hand this allows conclusions to be drawn about the evolution of human social preferences. On the other hand it is possible to compare phylogenetically different animal species that have certain social traits in common (cooperative breeding etc.).

Over the course of my PhD I've worked my way from small to big species. I started my project with rats that could choose between an equitable and an inequitable door in a specially designed social maze apparatus. After that I worked with marmosets. They made their choices by pulling one of two levers associated with different reward distributions. The small monkeys were followed by slightly bigger ones: Children could distribute smiley stickers between another child and themselves. Finally I've now reached my largest species; wolves and dogs, and since November 2016 I've been finally back at my beloved Wolf Science Center. One of the main reasons why I like this place so much is the fact that the animals' welfare always comes first and that the whole work is based on cooperation and positive reinforcement. Of course this also holds true for my study in which wolves and dogs may decide between fair and unfair reward distributions by selecting different symbols on a touchscreen.