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Reciprocal altruism among rats

A couple of weeks ago, I reported the results of a study that demonstrated that chimpanzees engaged in altruistic behavior; that is, they would help out another individual even if there was no benefit to themselves. For a long time, traditional theories had it that only humans were capable of altruistic behavior, and that was a defining characteristic that set us apart from all the beasts. Although it’s a nice story, more and more research is showing us just the opposite; many traits we once thought were human are common to more species.老域名出售

Were you to take the view that we’re not so different to some of the other higher primates, then you might also be happy to accept the idea that we’d be likely to share certain behaviors with them, including altruism. But a new study published in PLoS Biology looks at a much more distant relative and finds evidence for reciprocal altruism even there.

That species is Rattus norvegicus, commonly known as the Norway brown rat, well known to behavioral researchers around the world. In this study, the rats were tested for reciprocal altruism; altruistic behavior that is influenced by the rats’ prior experience. The rats were tasked with pulling a lever so that another rat would receive a food treat. Rats that had previously been helped were more likely pull the lever, and did so faster than those who had not been helped. The more recently that they had been on the receiving end of kindness, the more likely they were to help out others.

Perhaps there’s something coded deep down in the mammalian genome that’s the DNA equivalent of “do unto others as you’d have done unto you?”


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