Rats will help a stranger in distress only if they have had prior social experience with the type of the unfamiliar individual
Empathy-driven behavior has been observed in rats who will free trapped companions from restrainers. This behavior also extends toward strangers, but requires prior, positive social interactions with the type (strain) of the unfamiliar individual, report scientists from the University of Chicago, in the open access journal eLife on Jan. 14
The findings suggest that social experiences, not genetics or kin selection, determine whether an individual will help strangers out of empathy. The importance of social experience extends even to rats of the same strain—a rat fostered and raised with a strain different than itself will not help strangers of its own kind.
“Pro-social behavior appears to be determined only by social experience,” said Inbal Bartal, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study “It takes diverse social interactions during development or adulthood to expand helping behavior to more groups of unfamiliar individuals. Even in humans, studies have shown that exposure to diverse environments reduces social bias and increases pro-social behavior.”
VIDEO: Peggy Mason and Inbal Bartal of the University of Chicago describe how they discovered that rats will help strangers out of empathy, but with a caveat — they will only help rats of a type they are familiar with.