Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 499–505

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

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-007-0474-3

Cite this article as:
Rutte, C. & Taborsky, M. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2008) 62: 499. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0474-3


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 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology, University of BernHinterkappelenSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations