Rats prefer saving drowning fellow rats to chocolate

This video from England is called Brown Rats at Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire – 15th November 2014.

This video from Japan says about itself:

Rat Saves Its Soaked Cage Mate

13 May 2015

A rat helps its cage mate escape from a distressing room filled with water. (Credit: Sato, N. et. al./Springer)

From Wildlife Extra:

Rats will help to save fellow rats in trouble

Far from deserting a sinking ship, rats will help save a mate from possible drowning

Researchers have found that rats are more altruistic than previously thought and will save other members of their species even if doing so is not particularly to its advantage.

For example, if one rat is in danger of drowning, another will extend a helping paw to rescue it. This seemed to be especially true for rats that had experience of a similar dangerous situation themselves, says Nobuya Sato and colleagues of the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

Sato’s team conducted three sets of experiments involving a pool of water. Rats dislike being soaked but one swimming in the pool could only gain access to a dry and safe area in the cage if its cagemate opened a door for it.

The team found that rats quickly learned that to help their fellow rat they had to open the door, and they only opened the door when there was actually a distressed cagemate nearby who needed to be saved.

The experiments also showed that those rats which had a previous experience of being immersed in water were much quicker at learning how to save a cagemate than those who had not been immersed.

The researchers also watched what happened when rats had to choose between opening the door to help their distressed cagemate or accessing a different door to obtain a chocolate treat for themselves.

In most cases, rats chose to help their cagemate before going for the food. According to Sato this suggests that, for a rat, the relative value of helping others is of greater benefit than a food reward.

The results indicate that rats show empathy and can share in the emotional state of members of their own species.

“Our findings suggest that rats can behave prosocially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings towards their distressed cagemate,” says Sato, who believes that studies of sociality, such as empathy in rodents, are important for understanding the underlying neural basis of prosocial behavior as well as evolutionary aspects.

See also here.

Prairie vole: Mouse-like creature ‘capable of showing emotional sympathy’. Study finds they will console one another by grooming when one individual is observed suffering from painful distress: here.

Rats take a fundamentally different approach toward solving a simple visual discrimination task than tree shrews, monkeys, and humans, according to a comparative study of the four mammal species. The work could have important implications for the translation of research in animal models to humans: here.

Researchers have found that the rat brain activates the same cells when they observe the pain of others as when they experience pain themselves. In addition, without activity of these ‘mirror neurons,’ the animals no longer share the pain of others. Finding the neural basis for sharing the emotions of others is an exciting step towards understanding empathy: here.

Rats exchange information about danger in a reciprocal fashion, and this information transfer is at least partially mediated by a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex: here.

18 thoughts on “Rats prefer saving drowning fellow rats to chocolate

  1. years ago I read of a farmer who saw two rats in single file, the first one with a straw in its mouth which went to the mouth of the rat behind.
    The farmer killed the first rat with his spade, and then realised that the second rat was blind, and the first rat had been leading it with the straw… an example not just of altruism but of imaginative thinking using materials available…


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