Scientists at the University of Chicago have published a study describing "empathy-driven helping behavior" in rats. The study claims that rats "acted more agitated" when they saw their cage-mates being restrained, and when placed in the same cage as their trapped companions, rats would teach themselves how to open the restrainer and free their friends. They would even choose to free their friends over eating a pile of chocolate! Around 50% of the time, that is, but still pretty charitable for a rat.
Pro-social helping behavior (behavior motivated by empathy) has been observed in non-human primates, but this is the first time such behavior has been studied in rodents. It indicates that empathy is not limited to just humans and our closest evolutionary cousins.
"When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance," said study co-author Peggy Mason. "If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we'd be better off."
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