A Helping Paw for a Sinking Rat

Science and Children, September 2015 | Go to article overview

A Helping Paw for a Sinking Rat


Rats have more heart than you might think. When one is drowning, another will put out a helping paw to rescue its mate. This is especially true for rats that previously had a watery near-death experience, says Nobuya Sato and colleagues.

Recent research has shown that a rat will help members of its own species escape from a tubelike cage. The helping rat will show such prosocial behavior even if it does not gain any advantage from it. To see whether these rodents would also help when one of their own is about to drown, Sato's team conducted three sets of experiments involving a pool of water. One rat was made to swim for its life in the pool, with another rat in an adjacent cage. The soaked rat could only gain access to a dry and safe area in the cage if its cagemate opened a door for it.

Sato's team found that rats quickly learned that to help their distressed fellow rat, they had to open the door. The rats were, however, only quick to open the door when there was actually a truly distressed cagemate nearby who needed to be saved. The experiments also showed that rats dislike being soaked. …

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