Rats Free Friends, Show Compassion and Empathy

Dan Evon - Author

Jun. 16 2013, Updated 12:49 a.m. ET

According to movies, rats are disgusting, greedy, and filthy creatures. According to a recent study at the University of Chicago, rats are empathetic, compassionate, and masters at organizing a prison break. A new study shows that rats will almost always attempt to free their caged friends

Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a series of experiments involving two rats in a shared compartment. One rat was allowed to roam free while the other was trapped in a tiny cage.

News.com reports that once the rats learned how to open the tiny cage, they almost always chose to free their friends. The researchers found that the rats nearly always to help out their distressed friends even when chocolate was offered as an alternative.

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Jean Decety, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, said:

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“There are a lot of ideas in the literature showing that empathy is not unique to humans, and it has been well demonstrated in apes, but in rodents it was not very clear. We put together in one series of experiments evidence of helping behavior based on empathy in rodents, and that’s really the first time it’s been seen.”

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The researchers are still conducting experiments to see if the rats were motivated by anything other than empathy. They’ve determined that the rats were not motivated by the idea of social interaction, because they chose to free their friends even when the trapped rat was freed into another compartment, and that they were not simply performing a routine trick, because they didn’t open the trap when a fake rat was placed in the cage.

Do you think rats are capable of compassion and empathy?


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