Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 499–505 | Cite as

The influence of social experience on cooperative behaviour of rats (Rattus norvegicus): direct vs generalised reciprocity

  • Claudia RutteEmail author
  • Michael Taborsky
Original Paper


Cooperation among non-kin has been attributed sometimes to reciprocal altruism: Two or more individuals exchange behaviour that benefits the respective partner. According to direct reciprocity, cooperation is based on past behaviour of a known partner. In contrast, in generalised reciprocity, cooperation is based on anonymous social experience where the identity of the partner is irrelevant. In a previous study, female Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) were found to cooperate according to a generalised reciprocity mechanism. In this study, we tested whether Norway rats would also cooperate as predicted by a direct reciprocity mechanism and whether direct reciprocity would cause a higher propensity to cooperate than generalised reciprocity. Focal animals were experimentally manipulated to receive social experience from known or unknown, helpful or defecting partners in an instrumental cooperative task. Our first experiment shows that rats are more helpful towards a partner from which they had received help before than towards a partner that had not helped (i.e. direct reciprocity). Our second experiment revealed that after receiving help by others, rats were more helpful towards a partner from which they had received help before than towards a new partner (i.e. direct reciprocity generated a higher cooperation propensity than generalised reciprocity). We conclude that in female Norway rats, the tendency to cooperate is influenced by partner-specific information. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate direct reciprocity in rodents, and it is the first study testing direct vs generalised reciprocity in animals.


Cooperation Reciprocal altruism Cognition Rodents Game theory 



We are grateful to anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The housing of the rats and the experimental procedure adhered to the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research and were approved by the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology, University of BernHinterkappelenSwitzerland

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