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Science. 2011 Dec 9;334(6061):1427-30. doi: 10.1126/science.1210789.

Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats.

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Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.

Erratum in

  • Science. 2012 Jan 27;335(6067):401.


Whereas human pro-social behavior is often driven by empathic concern for another, it is unclear whether nonprimate mammals experience a similar motivational state. To test for empathically motivated pro-social behavior in rodents, we placed a free rat in an arena with a cagemate trapped in a restrainer. After several sessions, the free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate. Rats did not open empty or object-containing restrainers. They freed cagemates even when social contact was prevented. When liberating a cagemate was pitted against chocolate contained within a second restrainer, rats opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate. Thus, rats behave pro-socially in response to a conspecific's distress, providing strong evidence for biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior.

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