Do Rats Feel Empathy?

A new study finds rats prefer helping others over eating sweets. What does that mean for the way we treat animals?


Anyone who’s kept up with the latest and greatest about the cognitive, emotional, and moral lives of nonhuman animals knows surprises are being uncovered almost daily, and that many non-primate animals are showing intellectual and emotional capacities that rival those of the great apes. Some fascinating new results about empathy in laboratory rats caution against our tooting our “we’re so special” horn too loudly or proudly.

Over the past few years we’ve learned much about the moral lives of animals. Detailed studies have shown that mice and chickens display empathy—and now we know rats do, too.


By Marc Bekoff