Rodents Clearly Show Empathy-Driven Behavior, Evidence Suggests

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Rodents Clearly Show Empathy-Driven Behavior, Evidence Suggests

 

 

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The first evidence of empathy-driven helping behavior in rodents has been observed in laboratory rats that repeatedly free companions from a restraint, according to a new study by University of Chicago neuroscientists. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Chicago Medical Center)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2011) — The first evidence of empathy-driven helping behavior in rodents has been observed in laboratory rats that repeatedly free companions from a restraint, according to a new study by University of Chicago neuroscientists.

 

The observation, published December 8 in Science, places the origin of pro-social helping behavior earlier in the evolutionary tree than previously thought. Though empathetic behavior has been observed anecdotally in non-human primates and other wild species, the concept had not previously been observed in rodents in a laboratory setting.

"This is the first evidence of helping behavior triggered by empathy in rats," said Jean Decety, PhD, Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "There are a lot of ideas in the literature showing that empathy is not unique to humans, and it has been well demonstrated in apes, but in rodents it was not very clear. We put together in one series of experiments evidence of helping behavior based on empathy in rodents, and that's really the first time it's been seen."

The study demonstrates the deep evolutionary roots of empathy-driven behavior, said Jeffrey Mogil, the E.P. Taylor Professor in Pain Studies at McGill University, who has studied emotional contagion of pain in mice.

"On its face, this is more than empathy, this is pro-social behavior," said Mogil, who was not involved in the study. "It's more than has been shown before by a long shot, and that's very impressive, especially since there's no advanced technology here."

The experiments, designed by psychology graduate student and first author Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal with co-authors Decety and Peggy Mason, placed two rats that normally share a cage into a special test arena. One rat was held in a restrainer device -- a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cagemate but not required to take action.

The researchers observed that the free rat acted more agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer. This response offered evidence of an "emotional contagion," a frequently observed phenomenon in humans and animals in which a subject shares in the fear, distress or even pain suffered by another subject.

While emotional contagion is the simplest form of empathy, the rats' subsequent actions clearly comprised active helping behavior, a far more complex expression of empathy. After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena.

"We are not training these rats in any way," Bartal said. "These rats are learning because they are motivated by something internal. We're not showing them how to open the door, they don't get any previous exposure on opening the door, and it's hard to open the door. But they keep trying and trying, and it eventually works."

To control for motivations other than empathy that would lead the rat to free its companion, the researchers conducted further experiments. When a stuffed toy rat was placed in the restrainer, the free rat did not open the door. When opening the restrainer door released his companion into a separate compartment, the free rat continued to nudge open the door, ruling out the reward of social interaction as motivation. The experiments left behavior motivated by empathy as the simplest explanation for the rats' behavior.

"There was no other reason to take this action, except to terminate the distress of the trapped rats," Bartal said. "In the rat model world, seeing the same behavior repeated over and over basically means that this action is rewarding to the rat."

As a test of the power of this reward, another experiment was designed to give the free rats a choice: free their companion or feast on chocolate. Two restrainers were placed in the cage with the rat, one containing the cagemate, another containing a pile of chocolate chips. Though the free rat had the option of eating all the chocolate before freeing its companion, the rat was equally likely to open the restrainer containing the cagemate before opening the chocolate container.

"That was very compelling," said Mason, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology. "It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked."

Now that this model of empathic behavior has been established, the researchers are carrying out additional experiments. Because not every rat learned to open the door and free its companion, studies can compare these individuals to look for the biological source of these behavioral differences. Early results suggested that females were more likely to become door openers than males, perhaps reflecting the important role of empathy in motherhood and providing another avenue for study.

"This model of empathy and helping behavior opens the path for elucidating aspects of the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms that were not accessible until now." Bartal said.

The experiments also provide further evidence that empathy-driven helping behavior is not unique to humans -- and suggest thatHomo sapiens could learn a lesson from its rat cousins.

"When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance," Mason said. "If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we'd be better off."

The paper, "Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats," will be published Dec. 9 by the journal Science. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Science Foundation.

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208141933.htm

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


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How do they know the rats

How do they know the rats aren't actually into bondage?  Hmmmmmm?


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Furry, I spend time on the

Furry, I spend time on the net too, but it seems you spend more time than I do. They say religious women are privately kinky.   He he...sorry couldn't resist.

In all seriousness to the original article. This is further evidence that nothing about life or humans is magical or comes from the "thoughts" of a disembodied brain. The fact that rats or even cockroaches even run from us says that evolution is at work here. Any species with a brain, no matter how small or less complex, is still comprised of the same core structure called DNA that all life has. So of course rats have emotions. Just because they cant think at the level of a human does not mean they don't have chemical reactions or environmental input that causes them to react like this. It only means that they did not evolve with our capacity of language or thought.

If you have to gauge success by length in survival in evolutionary history rats and even cockroaches have been far more successful at survival than humans. And as physically big as we are, with no real natural protection from our environment. Everything, especially today, that we need to survive we have to make ourselves. There are far more species in evolution that have been around longer and produce more offspring and will out last us. Bacteria itself is the most abundant form of biological life that has been around since the earliest life and most certainly will outlast mammals.

This article does not surprise me at all.

 

 

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Speaking of DNA, not to get

Speaking of DNA, not to get too far off track. I was watching an episode of Forensic Files. It was about the first murder case conviction based, not on human DNA, but plant DNA. They found pods from a specific species of tree in the back of the suspect's pick up truck. They matched the DNA of the pod from the truck to the exact tree the body was found near.

That's the other thing that bugs me. People who like to trash science because it doesn't prop up their myth, would be happy to sit on a jury and accept DNA for evidence.

 

 

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
Check out my poetry here on Rational Responders Like my poetry thread on Facebook under BrianJames Rational Poet also on twitter under Brianrrs37


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Quote:When we act without

Quote:
When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance," Mason said. "If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we'd be better off.

Not necessarily, empathy is just one of many survival strategies. If they had trapped a cat the mouse could release, I doubt if any of the mice would show any empathy for the cats. So empathy is still a strategy of self-interest just like eating the chocolate.

In one moment a soldier can have empathy for an ally on the same side, then the next minute kill the enemy without any empathy. We  follow complex strategies for survival.

 

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca


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...

EXC wrote:

Quote:
When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance," Mason said. "If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we'd be better off.

Not necessarily, empathy is just one of many survival strategies. If they had trapped a cat the mouse could release, I doubt if any of the mice would show any empathy for the cats. So empathy is still a strategy of self-interest just like eating the chocolate.

In one moment a soldier can have empathy for an ally on the same side, then the next minute kill the enemy without any empathy. We  follow complex strategies for survival.

 

Yeah, we're still wired for in-group love and out-group hate, or at least in-group care and out-group apathy.  The more unrelated the group the less we care, whether species or tribe.

But I like how nice these rats were to each other without Jesus.  There are so many varieties of religions that think only their group can be good, and only human groups.  What a shock to realize that a tiny rat can be just as good -- a completely different species.  Sometimes all it takes for people is to see gorillas and chimpanzees taking care of each other to see how closely related we are.  They look so human!

 

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EXC, how would you explain why someone would sacrifice their life to save someone else's?  Maybe that's an easy one.  What about this: why would a bird sacrifice it's life to save another bird's life?  (Or a monkey, it doesn't have to be a bird.)  In both of these scenarios death is certain for the sacrificer, but life is possible for the target.