Pals put themselves at risk to free their friends
In a study done by Peggy Mason and her friends at the University of Chicago, they found that we program ourselves to give rats a bad reputation that may not be deserved. Much of it is deserved with all the damage they do and diseases they spread. Rodent control is just a needed fact of life. But she found that, in our language, we put even more negative connotations on rats that may not be deserved by using phrases like,” it smells like a rat” when things don’t feel right and “it’s a rat race” when we get stressed out and “don’t rat on your friends”.
Peggy found that maybe rats are more like humans than we want them to be and don’t deserve such a bad rap. She found that rats are selfless, show great empathy and self-sacrifice to other rats.
In her study, she put 2 rats in a plexiglass pen. One was allowed to run free but the second one was placed in a trap in the middle of the plexigass cage. The freed rat would run around the trapped rat, “gnawing at the cage and sticking their paws, noses and whiskers through any openings”. Eventually, the freed rat learned to open the cage and free their buddy “by head-butting the cage door or leaning their full weight against the door until it tipped over”.
When a rat had an empty trap placed in the pen they made no effort to open the trap.
When, in the same pen, the free rat had a trap with their favorite food placed inside and a trap with a rat inside the same pen, the free rat ignored the food and freed his buddy first. Then retrieved the food from the other trap and took it to the just freed pal.
Sure, with all the problems rats cause, rat control is a necessary fact of life in all urban areas. But it’s still interesting to understand showing empathy and displaying helping behavior, traits attributed to humans, are more common in all mammals than one might think.