Rats have been observed showing empathy-driven behavior, such as freeing trapped companions from restrainers. This behavior also extends toward strangers, but with a catch—rats require prior, positive social interactions with the type of the unfamiliar individual in order to show empathy, report University of Chicago scientists in the open access journal eLife.
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 type—a rat fostered and raised with a type different than itself will not help strangers of its own kind.
By Kevin Jiang