Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rats free each other from cages : Nature News & Comment

Rats free each other from cages : Nature News & Comment: Rats, often anthropomorphized as greedy and selfish, may not be the callous, cartoon villains they are sometimes made out to be. A paper published today in Science demonstrates that the rodents will liberate trapped cage-mates — even when they have nothing to gain.

There is a growing body of research showing that animals respond to the emotions of others. But it wasn't certain whether rats could suppress their own distress in order to aid another rat.

Lead author Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, thinks her work is a significant step towards settling this question. “This finding is the big kahuna — evidence that empathy motivates one individual to help another,” she says.

R rats can survive by running and hiding, however they can also cooperate in teams to defeat smaller predators. Cooperative behavior can then occur as long as threats are not frightening enough to make them run instead. This is like Roy herd animals such as gazelles, they might stay together as a herd to cooperate in chasing off a smaller Oy predator like a wild dog but run from a larger one.

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