Rats demonstrate helping behavior toward a soaked conspecific

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 26118514 and 24500481.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest associated with this study.

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Correspondence to Nobuya Sato.

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An example of door-opening behavior by a helper rat. The helper rat quickly opened the door using its forepaw

An example of door-opening behavior by a helper rat. The helper rat quickly opened the door using its forepaw

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Sato, N., Tan, L., Tate, K. et al. Rats demonstrate helping behavior toward a soaked conspecific. Anim Cogn 18, 1039–1047 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0872-2

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Keywords

  • Prosocial behavior
  • Helping behavior
  • Empathy
  • Rats