Rats Will Rescue Friends in Distress

One rat will open the door for another stuck in water
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2015 11:26 AM CDT
Rats Will Rescue Friends in Distress
Looking for a pal to save?   (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Steve Ebbert, File)

Rats may not have the best reputation, but a new study suggests that they're actually pretty good citizens. Researchers found that if a rat is in distress in water, another will save it, according to a post in Science Daily. Researchers put one rat in a pool of water and another in a dry area, with the two separated by a door. The dry rats soon learned that they could let the other rat through the door, thereby rescuing it—and they hurried to open the door only if the other animal seemed to be in real distress. What's more, rats who knew what it was like to be soaked, having been through it themselves, learned about the rescue mechanism faster than others.

"This suggests that knowing that soaking is distressing enhances the rats' motivation to help their cage mate," a researcher tells New Scientist. "We think this comes from empathy." In fact, those in the experiment seemed to care enough about their struggling brethren to forgo chocolate for them. Given the option of saving a fellow rat or getting a snack, they tended to opt for the rescue first. Previous studies have also pointed to empathy in rats, but further work is needed to be sure, researchers say. (Elephants, meanwhile, have been seen to console each other.)

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