Rats exhibit human-like empathy to help 'distressed' fellow rodents

Friday, 9 December 2011 - 10:30pm IST | Place: London | Agency: ANI
Rats, which are generally associated with double-crossing and cheating in love, are actually empathetic, just like human beings when it comes to helping fellow rodents, a new study has suggested.

Rats, which are generally associated with double-crossing and cheating in love, are actually empathetic, just like human beings when it comes to helping fellow rodents, a new study has suggested.

For the study, Chicago University scientists housed rats in pairs so that they got to know each other.

They then placed one in a transparent tube inside the cage, and found that the second rat was distressed until it worked out how to free the first one, the Daily Mail reported.

Surprisingly, not only did the creatures help cage-mates in distress, they also selflessly shared their treats with them.

Apparently, the female rats turned out to be more caring than the males.

During the experiment, scientists found that the roaming rat became agitated on seeing its trapped friend, implying that it had picked up on the animal’s distress, showing the simplest form of empathy.

But the free animal learned how to open the tube door, without being shown, and freed its cage-mate.

According to the researchers, this indicated that the animal was ‘putting itself in the other’s shoes’ — a much more complex form of empathy.

“We are not training these rats in any way. These rats are learning because they are motivated by something internal,” Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal said.

“We are not showing them how to open the door. It’s hard to open the door. But they keep trying and trying and eventually it works,” Bartal stated.
 
The study has been published in the journal Science.


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