Washington: A new study suggesting that like humans, rats too offer help without self-benefit has shed light on what drives us to help others.
Researcher Cristina Marquez said that people would not hesitate about helping an older person trying to cross the road and this type of actions is called prosocial behavior that means you are acting to benefit someone else.
To understand how our brain generates this type of behaviour, it is crucially important to develop tools to study prosocial decisions under laboratory conditions. In this study, Marquez and team set out to discover whether rats act prosocially, with no benefit for themselves and outline the factors that drive this behaviour.
The researchers emphasise that the kind of behaviour they are studying is different from altruistic acts, which involve a sacrifice, or a cost, to the helper.
The researchers found that the majority of rats favoured prosocial choices. "The rats in the role of the Helper would make the choice leading to a food reward to the other about 70 percent of the time. Of the 15 rats we tested, only 1 made selfish choices consistently, added Marquez.
This is the first time a connection between behavioural displays of preference and prosocial choice is reported in rodents. It is comparable to the way it works with humans, if you are not asked, you may not realise that someone needs help.
This finding expands a new wave of studies unraveling the complexity of social interactions in rodents. Scientists had recently discovered that rats would free a trapped partner and that they show increased pain or defence responses when witnessing partners in distress.
In this new study, it is the first time scientists show that rats behave prosocially under conditions that are not stressful. This distinction is important because it was believed that helping behaviour in species other than primates was only possible under stressful conditions.
The study is published in Current Biology.