Even animals, in their own way, know how to be empathetic, being able to understand what their fellow humans feel. A new confirmation comes from the University of Chicago which has shown that rats have a type of empathy very similar to that of man, for better or for worse.
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A surprising discovery that provides new information on the abilities of rodents, already known for their intelligence. The study, titled "The Bystander Effect in Rats", showed that rats help a companion in need if they are alone but in the presence of other "help" rats they are also encouraged not to give aid. It is the so-called spectator effect, well known in social psychology.
Based on this effect, an individual tends not to offer any help to a person in need when other people are also present. In other words, the greater the number of witnesses to the problem of others, the less likely it is that someone will help. The mechanism behind the classic spectator effect is believed to be a spread of responsibility whereby people believe they should not act because others will.
So do rats, according to new research published in Science Advances, which amplifies previous studies on rodent empathy. But one aspect surprised the researchers.
It was John Havlik who tested the spectator effect on rats and found that in their case empathy was contagious. In general, both in rodents and humans, the group tends to accentuate behaviour, but contrary to what was expected, rats were more likely to help others in difficulty.
"At first, I thought the experiment had failed but after doing more research on human studies, we realized that the behaviour was actually mirrored in people as well," said Havlik. "This seems to go against everything we know about the Bystander effect but, apparently, a surveillance footage study released just last year found that humans actually helped in over 90% of violent encounters. The fact is that, as often happens in research in psychology, we do not fully understand the effect. But whatever the implications, the important thing is that humans are not alone in manifesting this type of behaviour. Rats seem to be just as empathetic, "explained the author of the study.
We do not struggle to believe it.
Reference sources: the University of Chicago, Science Advances