Rat study throws new light on animal consciousness – rats behave with empathy

Posted on January 23, 2012

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(NaturalNews) An animal whose very name is often used as an insult may harbor more “human” traits like compassion than previously suspected. A recent study by University of Chicago researchers suggests that rats are capable of behavior which seems based on empathy for others of their kind.

Compassionate rats?

Arguments against animal testing tend to center on those animals most like us, such as the great apes, or on animals humans frequently keep as pets like cats and dogs. Meanwhile, arguments for animal testing often center on the notion of animals as dumb beasts operating solely on instinct, unlike the finely tuned higher impulses of the human species. Yet rats in the recent study, published in the December 9, 2011 issue of the journal Science, went out of their way to free another rat that was trapped.

Psychologists at the University of Chicago conducted a series of experiments in which they put one rat inside a clear cage which could only be sprung from the outside. They left another rat to roam free outside the cage for an hour at a time. The free rat initially circled the cage, attempting to dig beneath it or bite through it. After several times of seeing its trapped cohort, the roaming rat learned how to open the cage and free the other rat. “It’s very obvious that it is intentional,” says study coauthor Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal. “They walk right up to the door and open the door.” After the trapped rat was freed, both animals engaged in excited running.

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