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Empathetic rats


Research in Science suggests that rats are capable of a human characteristic: empathy. The study below tested response when a fellow rats was trapped, and they found that not only do they spend time and energy deliberately helping the trapped companions, but they would even share food after rescuing them.

Using a small square arena, with a cage in the center; rats were trapped, and sometimes not. When another 2nd rat was released, it would either wandered around of let his fellow rat go (Traps release mechanism eventually picked up in the 12 day study).

The rats were noticeably agitated when one was trapped, and tended to circle the center, dig, and call to the trapped; when the cage was empty, these behaviors were absent. Over the course of the experiment, the rats learned to open the cage, and became much faster at doing so. A extremely higher percentage that were inside the arena, with a trapped rat, opened the cage (23 out of 30); compared to the rats that were in the arena with an empty cage (5 out of 40). Clearly, these annoying little furballs are excited to open a cage when a fellow companion is stuck inside.

.::Interesting Fact::. During the 12 trials, female rats were more likely to open the cage than males were (100% vs. 70%).

Researchers then upped the ante with another 2nd trap filled with chocolate chips, (rats really like chocolate). Rats were as likely to open the cage with there companion, as they were to open the cage with the chocolate, suggesting that the motivation to free a trapped companion is about as strong as the motivation to eat the chocolate. Additionally, in more than half of the trials, the free rats shared the chocolate with the trapped rat after freeing it. The free rats actually ate fewer chocolate chips when there was another rat in the arena than they did when they were alone, indicating a willingness to share the bounty.

.::Interesting Fact::.We don’t know whether rats were trying to alleviate other rats distress, or to make themselves feel better about the whole situation…

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