No preference for prosocial helping behavior in rats with concurrent social interaction opportunities

Abstract

Helping behavior tasks are proposed to assess prosocial or “empathic” behavior in rodents. This paradigm characterizes the behavior of subject animals presented with the opportunity to release a conspecific from a distressing situation. Previous studies found a preference in rats for releasing restrained or distressed conspecifics over other controls (e.g., empty restrainers or inanimate objects). An empathy account was offered to explain the observed behaviors, claiming subjects were motivated to reduce the distress of others based on a rodent homologue of empathy. An opposing account attributes all previous results to subjects seeking social contact. To dissociate these two accounts for helping behavior, we presented subject rats with three simultaneous choice alternatives: releasing a restrained conspecific, engaging a nonrestrained conspecific, or not socializing. Subjects showed an initial preference for socializing with the nonrestrained conspecific, and no preference for helping. This result contradicts the empathy account, but is consistent with the social-contact account of helping behavior.

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Correspondence to Kelsey A. Heslin.

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The data sets generated and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon request. This study was not preregistered.

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Heslin, K.A., Brown, M.F. No preference for prosocial helping behavior in rats with concurrent social interaction opportunities. Learn Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13420-021-00471-8

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Keywords

  • Helping behavior
  • Social contact
  • Empathy
  • Prosocial