Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Would Rats Rather Save their Friends or Eat Chocolate?

The latest news in animal behavior:
For their test of altruistic behavior, the team devised an experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition. On one side of the box, a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, which it strongly disliked. Although not at risk of drowning—the animal could cling to a ledge—it did have to tread water for up to 5 minutes. The only way the rodent could escape its watery predicament was if a second rat—sitting safe and dry on a platform—pushed open a small round door separating the two sides, letting it climb onto dry land.

Within a few days, the high-and-dry rats were regularly aiding their soaking companions by opening the door, the team reports online today in Animal Cognition. They did not open the door when the pool was dry, confirming that the rats were helping in response to others’ distress, rather than because they wanted company, neurobiologist Peggy Mason says. Rats that had previously been immersed learned how to save their cagemates much more quickly than those who had never been soaked, suggesting that empathy drove their behavior, she adds. “Not only does the rat recognize distress, but he is even more moved to act because he remembers being in that situation.”
And then the true test of empathy:
In this experiment, rats on the dry platform had to choose between two doors, one that allowed their soaked companion to escape from the pool and another that provided access to a tasty chocolate treat. The rodents chose to help their companions before seeking the snack 50% to 80% of the time, showing that the urge to help a fellow rat was at least as strong as the desire for food.
Perhaps human males should consider setting up a similar test for their mates; would she rescue you from five minutes of discomfort if it meant giving up chocolate?


G. Verloren said...

I get that the final quip there was meant in friendly just, so I'm going to phrase this carefully. I don't believe YOU are a sexist - but I absolutely believe what you SAID is a bit sexist.

I understand it was employed for the sake of humor, but the suggestion that the stereotype of women loving chocolate would drive substantial numbers of them (and somehow not men!) to allow others to suffer just to get some chocolate is pretty offensive.

David said...

On the contrary, I think it betrays a mind steeped in those long ago glory days when we were young and had desires and things. For those of us of a certain age, the following gender-neutral scenario presents itself, using the old formula of "significant other":

S.O.1: Hey, I'm trapped here.

S.O.2: What, you can't get out of six inches of water by yourself?

S.O.1: Oh, go get your chocolate already.

S.O.2: Really, you can't get up from there? Why don't you ever use that stairmaster I bought you?

S.O.1: It makes my feet hurt!

S.O.2: Oh, all right. You better appreciate this.

S.O.1: What, and listen for the rest of my life about how you gave up the chocolate? I'll just stay cold and wet, thank you.

And so on. Literally hours of fun can be had! Experimenters have determined that older lab rats, presented with a choice of rescuing each other or eating chocolate, will instead squeak at one another until the time is up. Etc.

G. Verloren said...

See, that's funny without being terribly problematic - we all grow old, and many of us grow crotchety.

Humor based on the absurdities of human behavior works fine until you try to restrict that behavior to only certain arbitrary groupings, and in the process reinforce stereotyping. A joke about bad driving is fine, but one about women being bad drivers isn't really okay. A joke about greed is fine, but one about Jews being greedy is offensive.

David said...

Hey, you killed my joke! Wah!

Rest in peace . . .