Japanese Study Suggests Rats Are Altruistic & Empathetic

Written by on July 31, 2017 in Sci-Tech, Science with 56 Comments

altruistic rat study

By Jeff Roberts | Collective Evolution

Rats tend to get a bad rap. Commonly pegged as tiny, sewer-dwelling, beady-eyed monsters, these common rodents definitely aren’t looked at in the same light as other rodents, such as hamsters or even mice. But a new study out of Japan may change your perspective on rats for good.

Researchers at the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan found that when rats were put in a situation where they could drown, they will indeed, rescue their distressed pals from danger—even when they’re offered chocolate instead. They’re also more likely to help when they’ve had a similar unpleasant experience of their own, adding to growing evidence that the rodents feel empathy.

Related Article: Human Brains Are Hardwired for Empathy, Friendship

For their test of altruistic behaviour, the team devised an experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition. On one side of the box, a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, which it strongly disliked.

Although not at risk of drowning—the animal could cling to a ledge—it did have to tread water for up to 5 minutes. The only way the rodent could escape its watery predicament was if a second rat—sitting safe and dry on a platform—pushed open a small round door separating the two sides, letting it climb onto dry land.

Within a few days, the high-and-dry rats were regularly aiding their soaking companions by opening the door, the team reported in Animal Cognition.

They did not open the door when the pool was dry, confirming that the rats were helping in response to others’ distress, rather than because they wanted company, said Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago.

Rats that had previously been immersed learned how to save their cagemates much more quickly than those who had never been soaked, suggesting that empathy drove their behavior, said Mason. “Not only does the rat recognize distress, but he is even more moved to act because he remembers being in that situation.”


Related Article: Kids Who Grow Up With Pets Are More Emotionally Intelligent and Compassionate

Related Article: Implant Makes Mind Reading Possible in Rats


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  1. Disputes my earlier conclusion I guess that Trump is a rat

  2. I always had pet rats and they definitely are! I actually found a baby rat and raised it and he would come running to me and cuddle up on my chest. And this was a wild rat!

  3. Rats are fantastic when you raise them !!!

  4. Ana Martel Ana Martel says:

    They better stop trying to come to my house lol

  5. Brenda Brown Brenda Brown says:

    I hear that you can tickle them and the kind of laugh

  6. Jason Caruso Jason Caruso says:

    And humans exploit them as if they are trash

  7. Jan Olivier Jan Olivier says:

    Just goes to show…even rats are higher evolved than Japs And Chinese that slaughter dolphins and whales….

    • What an ugly comment. Why would you feel you needed to be so derogatory toward people. I agree the hunts are horrific but to be ugly toward a whole Nations worth of people for the evil acts of a few is just as ugly as the hunt itself.

    • Jan Olivier Jan Olivier says:

      Jessica Keane…. and I qoute myself: Japs and Chinense THAT SLAUGHTER DOLPHINS AND WHALES….. I think that is being specific towards Japs and Chinese ….. THAT SLAUGHTER DOLPHINS AND WHALES….. by implication exclyding JAPS AND CHINESE WHO DO NOT SLAUGHTER DOLPHINS AND WHALES

      Come on….this IS Facebook and to type out an entire list of all nations that do slaughter mammals…..REALLY?

  8. Hope Windle Hope Windle says:

    Rodents have empathy yet people still refuse to accept an unborn child has the right to live. What kind of world do we live in that we value animal life over human?

  9. OK…I am OK with it…just build them homes of their OWN!!! If you sneak in and fuck up my life and scare the shit out of me…I must remove you. Don’t want to leave? OK…got something for that too. I can’t have rodents feeding into my empathic life!!!! FUCK THAT…I already can’t stand most people….FML

  10. Terri Strong Terri Strong says:

    I knew that from the time I was a little kid, but they tried to teach that belief out of me.

  11. I think they should stop experimenting on Rats!

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  13. Erik Albert Erik Albert says:

    You can only feel the need to launch a concept you call empathy as a result of not perceiving the essence of life. In nature, everything connects, and what you call oneness is essence of love resulting in existence.

    To balance all this naturally, self-preservation rules accordingly. In other words, you help without asking anything in return, and without getting yourself into trouble. This is universal, as opposed to species’ specific.

    And to help you with all your feeding process related nonsense and frustrations, there is no morality to existence. You can eat what you want. Which doesn’t mean you should not fine tune production processes, or continue to breed humans like you are running out of carbon based shells. Getting your act together sounds like the healthy option you are looking for.

  14. Kim Rice Kim Rice says:

    In order to survive, rats and mice know they are best when members of a group / tribe / what have you. There is strength – and the greater chance of food – when lots of individuals are working together. They see this behavior among adults as they are growing and emulate their example. Saving a potential comrade who, if he lives, may help YOU find food / shelter / a mate isn’t altruistic or empathetic, it’s a basic survival choice and a selfish one at that if you think about it. So no. Not buying it. But the Teddy Bear is cute~!

  15. Kathy Ingram Kathy Ingram says:

    Quit torturing animals!!!

  16. I potty train all of mine. If I open the frig he new I was cooking and he’d wait patiently until I shared my meal.
    Loved chicken and potatoes

  17. Flossie Shaw Flossie Shaw says:

    I had a pet rat that would give me a kiss on the cheek and come to me when called.

  18. Anastasya Eliseeva Thought you might like this

  19. Lee Gerkew Lee Gerkew says:

    All animals are sentient.

  20. Best pet I ever had ?

  21. I think they are freaking cruel to conduct experiments on rats, or any animal for that matter. I guess it failed on humans.

  22. The comments in this are pretty funny…potty train them huh? Lol
    My snake seems pretty empathetic, but he’s still gotta eat

  23. Kathy Popp Kathy Popp says:

    why not? they are smart – a dog will help a friend or an owner…

  24. I believe all creatures feel more than we give them credit for.

  25. I think animals are more evolved and empathetic than some humans. That’s right.

  26. Evyah Mims Evyah Mims says:

    Basically rats shouldn’t be used in case study research
    People can’t have it both ways
    Do you want life saving vaccines or not

  27. This test was a way to prove you this? Sounds sadistic……and cruel ?

  28. Love rats had too wee sweethearts

  29. Hunter Holtman knew this! 🙂

  30. Marly Howard Marly Howard says:

    Cally Robertson-Snow

  31. Here’s to my rat friends and their people.

  32. Are they doing the same with the whales? That’s why they need thousands …!!

  33. This is amazing. Rats are so awesome, I want a pet rat. I wish they would stop experiments on them 🙁

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