We’ve spent a fair amount of time (too much?) discussing the plight of lab mice, so it’s time to give the lab rat its due. Rats are amazing little critters, and they have a lot to tell us about ourselves, especially if we subject them to torturous trials and tribulations. In a recent study, rats were put in the perilous situation of having to tread water for up to five minutes. A rat on an adjoining (dry) platform could free the “drowning” rat by opening a door to the platform, which they regularly did. Even when offered the choice between chocolate and freeing their wet companion, the rats chose to first help their pals 50-80% of the time.
This is a good indication that there’s a genetic basis for empathy and altruism. Whether the humans in the lab acquired these genes is up for debate.