I love how science is chipping away at our species-centric sense of superiority. This time it is a Science News report He’s no rat, he’s my brother. (Google [Rodents exhibit empathy by setting trapped friends free].) This bit of research speaks for itself.
Of course, I can’t leave without reiterating my wonder at the peculiar urge humanity feels to see itself as the “superior species” capable of love, empathy, awareness, spirituality, and, you name it. We are certainly different in many ways from other species, but only superficially….not fundamentally.
A symptom’s point of view (p.141) tells me that it is our insecurity and sense of disconnection that drives us to inflate our self-image this way. As chapter 2 hints, It is because it lays claim to no merit that its merit never deserts it. Being thinking animals, we puff ourselves up cognitively while gorillas with their physical prowess puff themselves up by thumping their chest. Isn’t it marvelous how similar things really are!
Here are a few brief excerpts from the article:
Calling someone a rat should no longer be considered an insult. The often-maligned rodents go out of their way to liberate a trapped friend, a gregarious display that’s driven by empathy, researchers conclude in the Dec. 9 Science.
“As humans, we tend sometimes to have this feeling that there’s something special about our morals,” says neuroscientist Christian Keysers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, who was not involved in the study. “It seems that even rats have this urge to help.”
Initially, the free rat would circle the cage, digging and biting at it. After about seven days of encountering its trapped friend, the roaming rat learned how to open the cage and liberate the trapped rat. “It’s very obvious that it is intentional,” Bartal says. “They walk right up to the door and open the door.” The liberation is followed by a frenzy of excited running.
“If I open the door, that rat’s distress goes away and my distress goes away,” psychologist Matthew Campbell of Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, who studies empathy in chimpanzees. “They are affected by what the other is experiencing, and that alone is remarkable.”
To push the limits of the rats’ goodwill, Bartal and her team pitted a trapped rat against trapped chocolate, forcing a rat to choose which one to release. “These rats adore their chocolate,” she says. The results astonished Bartal: The rats were equally likely to free a rat in distress as they were to free the sweets. To a rat, a fellow rodent’s freedom was just as sweet as five chocolate chips.
And the niceness doesn’t stop there: “The most shocking thing is they left some of the chocolate for the other rat,” Bartal says. The hero rat left a chocolate chip or two for its newly free associate in more than half of the trials. On purpose. “It’s not like they missed a chocolate,” Bartal says. “They actually carried it out of the restrainer sometimes but did not eat it.”