Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1039-1047

First online:

Rats demonstrate helping behavior toward a soaked conspecific

  • Nobuya SatoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, Kwansei Gakuin University Email author View author's OrcID profile 
  • , Ling TanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, Kwansei Gakuin University
  • , Kazushi TateAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, Kwansei Gakuin University
  • , Maya OkadaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychological Sciences, Kwansei Gakuin University

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Helping behavior is a prosocial behavior whereby an individual helps another irrespective of disadvantages to him or herself. In the present study, we examined whether rats would help distressed, conspecific rats that had been soaked with water. In Experiment 1, rats quickly learned to liberate a soaked cagemate from the water area by opening the door to allow the trapped rat into a safe area. Additional tests showed that the presentation of a distressed cagemate was necessary to induce rapid door-opening behavior. In addition, it was shown that rats dislike soaking and that rats that had previously experienced a soaking were quicker to learn how to help a cagemate than those that had never been soaked. In Experiment 2, the results indicated that rats did not open the door to a cagemate that was not distressed. In Experiment 3, we tested behavior when rats were forced to choose between opening the door to help a distressed cagemate and opening a different door to obtain a food reward. Irrespective of how they learned to open the door, in most test trials, rats chose to help the cagemate before obtaining a food reward, suggesting that the relative value of helping others is greater than the value of a food reward. These results suggest that rats can behave prosocially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings toward their distressed cagemate.


Prosocial behavior Helping behavior Empathy Rats