Friday, December 9, 2011


Rats are more like people than you thought! At least that is what the Chicago Tribune article on some helpful rats would lead a person to believe.

Seems an experiment was designed to see if rats could show empathy for each other. We tend to think that kindness and caring are human traits, and we have no problem thinking of kindness and caring when it comes to the actions of dogs, and for cat people we'll even allow that cats can show a bit of those human emotions. But rats?

Well, the experiment showed something of the sort. Sets of same-sex rats were socialized with each other in pairs until it appeared they were "friends." In a common cage, two smaller cages were placed. In one of the smaller cages, left open, the experimenters placed 5 chocolate chips. In the other cage, the rat's friend was placed, with the door shut. It wasn't possible to open the door from the inside, but that cage COULD be opened from the outside by friend rat if that rat cared enough for its friend to figure out how to do it. Complicating the problem was that chocolate is a rat's favorite food, and the question to be answered was: did the rat care more for its friend or for the chocolate chips.

This experiment was repeated over and over so that the answer was a statistical certainty. And here's what the results showed:

All rats appeared concerned enough about its friend to eventually get the door opened and let its compadre out. None of the rats ate all 5 of the chocolate chips first, but some did eat as many as three and a half of them, apparently saving the rest for their buddy.

This told the researchers that rats have at least evolved to the extent that what they did "looked" like compassion. However, there was another interesting result: the female rats appeared more "compassionate" than the males. Each worked harder and faster to get its friend out of the predicament, and they saved, on average, more of the chocolate chips than the male rats did!

So much for rats. I found this an interesting study, and I admit to finding the weirdest things interesting. But I do think there is a lesson for us female humans in this.

If we want the male in our family to do a chore for us, we need to make sure there are no chocolate chips in the house!

1 comment:

Olga said...

I am out of chocolate that explains why the dishes pile up.