Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats
Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, Peggy Mason
Science 9 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6061 pp. 1427-1430 DOI: 10.1126/science.1210789
Whereas human pro-social behavior is often driven by empathic concern for another, it is unclear whether nonprimate mammals experience a similar motivational state. To test for empathically motivated pro-social behavior in rodents, we placed a free rat in an arena with a cagemate trapped in a restrainer. After several sessions, the free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate. Rats did not open empty or object-containing restrainers. They freed cagemates even when social contact was prevented. When liberating a cagemate was pitted against chocolate contained within a second restrainer, rats opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate. Thus, rats behave pro-socially in response to a conspecific’s distress, providing strong evidence for biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior.