How Empathically the Animal Kingdom Works

By | January 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm | No comments

Photo by Noa Brandt via flickr

Scientists recently conducted research on rats to see whether animals other than apes can perform selflessly. It is long observed that we inherit our empathy from our closely related apes and ape-like ancestors. Non-ape animals were not tested at first because the scientists did not want to be mocked as anthropomorphic according to the psychologist Jeffery Mogil of the McGill University. However, the recent research shows that rats inherit the empathy personality and other mammals will likely have the same character.

A container of a rat and a container of chocolate chips, which is favourite snack for the rats, were placed in the middle of the Plexiglass pen. A free rat was placed in the ‘free’ portion of the pen so it could run around freely. This test was tested for one week and 30 rats were tested. 23 out of 30 rats (76.7%) learned to open the container and successfully freed their partners, by “gnawing at the cage and sticking their paws, noses and whiskers through any openings” for the new study conducted by Peggy Mason, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, and Jean Decety,  all from the University of Chicago. Although the free rat could get to the chocolate chips and eat all, they did not. They left at least one chocolate chip for the other rat. At first, the free rat was surprised by the sound of the tumbling door. As time passes, the rat got used to the noise, which posed a suggestion that they completely hoped to move the door away. They also were not interested in opening cages with nothing inside or those with stuffed rats, which showed that they absolutely wanted to open their most desired cage.

This experiment was not expected in the world of the rats and the researchers were certainly surprised by the results. There were 6 female and 24 male rats in the research. All 6 females successfully solved how to free the trapped rats while only 17 males helped freeing the other rats. Mason guessed that some rats were shocked by the distressed calls. Mason suggested that “females are generally more genetic [empathetic] than males” but the findings could be argued.

Due to these very surprising results, other scientists are now willing to perform empathy tests on other non-ape animals (mostly mammals). Mogil will be planning to perform experiments on mice and choose mice that are not closely related to each other.

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