Rats have a stigma.
They often are perceived to live in dirty conditions, feeding off refuse, scuttling about and sometimes seeming to go after humans. What's more, they're accused of carrying a plethora of pathogens that could be harmful to people.
That said, a new study looking into rat behavior might cast these animals in a slightly better light. Japanese researchers found that the rodents seem to be more than willing to try and help their own kind when in need, especially if they had a near-death experience themselves.
Researchers found that a rat on the dry side of the cage would learn to open the door for the rat on the side where he had to swim to survive, suggesting the rats have some level of empathy. (Image source: Sato, N. et al. via Springer)
Nobuya Sato and his colleagues at Kwansei Gakuin University conducted experiments where a rat had to swim in a pool of water to stay afloat. Another rat in a dry cage next to this pool could open the door to save the other rat.
The researchers found that the rats were quick learners when it came to figuring out how to rescue their water-logged friend. Rats were faster at opening the door for the other rat if they seemed truly in distress and if they too had been soaked at one point as well.
The researchers even tempted the dry rats with food to see if they would go for a treat rather than help their fellow rat-kind. They found that in most cases the dry rat chose to help its cagemate before getting the food.
"Our findings suggest that rats can behave prosocially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings towards their distressed cagemate," Sato said in a statement.
The research was published this week in the journal Animal Cognition.
(H/T: Science Daily)
Front page image via Shutterstock.