Desire for social contact, not empathy, may explain “rescue” behavior in rats

Abstract

Ben-Ami Bartal et al. (Science 334:1427–1430, 2011) showed that a rat in an open space (free rat) would touch the front door of a restraining tube to open its rear door, thereby enabling a rat trapped within (trapped rat) to enter a larger space that was farther away from the free rat. Since opening the rear door distanced the trapped rat from the free rat, Ben-Ami Bartal et al. argued free-rat behavior could not be motivated by the pursuit of social contact. Instead, this rat was empathically motivated, its goal being to reduce the presumed distress of the rat trapped in the restraining tube. In two experiments, we show that (a) a free rat will not learn to touch the front door to open the rear door when it is the first condition of the experiment; (b) over time, a trapped rat will often return to a restraining tube despite its presumed aversiveness; and (c) a free rat experienced in touching the front door will continue to touch it even if touching does not free the trapped rat. We explain these results and Ben-Ami Bartal et al.’s in terms of two processes, neophobia and the pursuit of social contact. When first placed in a restraining tube, neophobia causes the trapped rat to escape the tube when the rear door is opened. Across sessions, neophobia diminishes, permitting the rats’ pursuit of social contact to emerge and dominate free- and trapped-rat behavior.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Ben-Ami Bartal I, Decety J, Mason P (2011) Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats. Science 334:1427–1430

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Brosnan SF, de Waal FBM (2003) Monkeys reject unequal pay. Nature 425:297–299

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Burkart JM, Fehr E, Efferson C, van Schaik CP (2007) Other-regarding preferences in a non-human primate: common marmosets provision food altruistically. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:19762–19766

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chen MK, Lakshminarayanan V, Santos LR (2006) How basic are behavioral biases? Evidence from capuchin monkey trading behavior. J Polit Econ 114:517–537

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Colman AD, Liebod KE, Boren JJ (1989) A method for studying altruism in monkeys. Psychol Rec 19:401–405

    Google Scholar 

  6. Cowan PE (1977) Neophobia and neophilia: new-object and new-place reactions in three Rattus species. J Comp Physiol Psychol 91:63–71

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. de Waal FBM (2012) The antiquity of empathy. Science 336:874–876

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. de Waal FBM, Leirngruber K, Greenberg AR (2008) Giving is self-rewarding for monkeys. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:13685–13689

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Decety J, Norman GJ, Berntson GG, Cacioppo JT (2012) A neurobehavioral evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms underlying empathy. Prog Neurobiol 98:38–48

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Ennaceur A, Michalikova S, Chazot PL (2009) Do rats really express neophobia towards novel objects? Experimental evidence from exposure to novelty and to an object recognition task in an open space and an enclosed space. Behav Brain Res 197:417–434

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fontenot MB, Watson SL, Roberts KA, Miller RW (2007) Effects of food preferences on token exchange and behavioural responses to inequality in tufted capuchin monkeys, Cebus apella. Anim Behav 74:487–496

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Jensen K, Hare B, Call J, Tomasello M (2006) What’s in it for me? Self-regard precludes altruism and spite in chimpanzees. Proc R Soc B 273:1013–1021

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lakshminarayanan VR, Santos LR (2008) Capuchin monkeys are sensitive to others’ welfare. Curr Biol 18:R999–R1000

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Latané B, Glass DC (1958) Social and nonsocial attraction in rats. J Pers Soc Psychol 9:142–146

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Masserman JH, Wechkin S, Terris W (1964) “Altruistic” behavior in rhesus monkeys. Am J Psychiatry 121:584–585

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Mitchell D (1976) Experiments on neophobia in wild and laboratory rats: a reevaluation. J Comp Physiol Psychol 90:190–197

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Nowbahari E, Scohier A, Durand J-L, Hollis KL (2009) Ants, Cataglyphis cursor, use precisely directed rescue behavior to free entrapped relatives. PLoS ONE 4:e6573. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006573

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Panksepp J (2011) Empathy and the laws of affect. Science 334:1358–1359

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Povinelli DJ, Perilloux HK, Reaux JE, Bierschwale DT (1998) Young and juvenile chimpanzees’ (Pan troglodytes) reactions to intentional versus accidental and inadvertent actions. Behav Process 42:205–218

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Preobrazhenskaya IA, Simonov PV (1974) Conditioned avoidance response to the pain stimulation of another animal. Sov Psychol 12:90–101

    Google Scholar 

  21. Rice GE, Gainer P (1962) Altruism in the albino rat. J Comp Physiol Psychol 55:123–125

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Sidman M (1960) Tactics of scientific research: evaluating experimental data in psychology. Basic Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  23. Silberberg A, Roma PG, Huntsberry ME, Warren-Boulton FR, Sakagami T, Ruggiero AM, Suomi SJ (2008) On loss aversion in capuchin monkeys. J Exp Anal Behav 89:145–155

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Silk JP, Brosnan SF, Vonk J, Henrich J, Povinelli DJ, Richardson AS, Lambeth SP, Mascaro J, Schapiro J (2005) Chimpanzees are indifferent to the welfare of unrelated group members. Nature 437:1357–1359

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Vasconcelos M, Hollis K, Nowbahari E, Kacelnik A (2012) Pro-sociality without empathy. Biol Lett 8:910–912

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Warneken F, Tomasello M (2006) Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science 311:1301–1303

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Wolfle DL, Wolfle HM (1939) The development of cooperative behavior in monkeys and young children. J Genet Psychol 55:137–175

    Google Scholar 

  28. Woodruff G, Premack D (1979) Intentional communication in the chimpanzee—development of deception. Cognition 7:333–362

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alan Silberberg.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Silberberg, A., Allouch, C., Sandfort, S. et al. Desire for social contact, not empathy, may explain “rescue” behavior in rats. Anim Cogn 17, 609–618 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0692-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Social contact
  • Altruism
  • Neophobia
  • Rats