A new study has, demonstrated the existence of empathy-driven behavior in
In an experiment carried out by University of
Chicago neuroscientists, pairs of rats that normally shared a cage were
placed in a special area, where one was confined to a closed tube with a
door that could be opened from the outside while the other remained able to
roam around freely. The researchers observed that "the free rat acted more
agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the
rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer."
This kind of
"emotional contagion" had been observed previously in tats -- but what
happened next was more unexpected. As described by Science Daily," After
several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the
restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the
rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action
almost immediately upon placement in the test arena."
"We are not
training these rats in any way," one of the designers of the experiment
explained. "These rats are learning because they are motivated by something
internal. We're not showing them how to open the door, they don't get any
previous exposure on opening the door, and it's hard to open the door. But
they keep trying and trying, and it eventually works."
variations on the experiment appeared to confirm that the rats were acting
out of pure empathy. For example, they would not bother to open the door
when a toy rat was placed in the tube. However, they would open it even if
it released their companion into a separate area, meaning they were not just
looking for company.
And not only that, but when the rats were
offered two tubes -- one of which contained their companion and the
other a pile of chocolate chips -- they were as likely to free the other rat
first as they were to start by gobbling all the chocolate. There were also
cases in which the rat retrieved the chocolate chips first but didn't eat
them until after freeing the other and sharing the chocolate with them.
There was, however, one significant gender-based difference. Females
were more consistent than males both in learning how to open the door and in
using this skill to free a trapped companion.