If you were to ask somebody on the street to give their opinion on the common rat in one word, you can almost guarantee that words such as sympathetic, compassionate, and heroic would probably be some of the rarest answers you could get, however, recent studies suggest that rats actually have a sense of empathy that surpasses that of most of the animal kingdom.
A series of experiments conducted to explore the possibility of empathy and compassion in rats has yielded conclusive proof that rats have a sense of compassion that had never been previously considered to exist.
Respected scientists began by placing one rat in a small pool of water, which, although not large enough to drown the rat, caused visible signs of distress in the soaked rat.
At the same time, another rat was placed in a plastic container adjacent to the terrified rat, separated by a transparent screen. After seeing their fellow rodent in their state of panic, the dry rat quickly learned to operate a small lever in their cell which would open a door beside the panicking test-subject, allowing it to crawl into a dry “Safe Zone”.
The experiment was repeated a number of times, with the vast majority of conclusions showing that upon learning of a comrade’s distress, a rat will quickly try their best to assist their fellow creature.
Perhaps what’s most striking about this is what happened next. After placing a second lever in the dry rats’ test area, the scientists in question taught each rat that upon pulling this different lever, they would receive a chocolate treat.
This was done with the water chamber empty.
However, the experiment was repeated, this time with one rat in a pool of water, and the second rat in the adjacent room, this time with both levers. To the scientists’ surprise, virtually every test subject chose to save their friend before attempting to get their treat!
Also, when the situation was reversed, and rats who had previously been in water and were now witnessing a different rat experiencing the very sensation they had recently felt, pulled the safety lever in a far shorter amount of time than did their inexperienced brethren.
So next time you’re in a pet shop and you’re about to rush over to the fluffy rabbits or the tropical fish, take some time to walk over to their cage, and tip your hat to the honourable rats.
Brían is an 18 year old writer with a passion for poetry and a novel in the works. For more from Brían, check out his blog.