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Friday, 9 December 2011

You dirty little!

I remember that Boomtown Rats song, "Rat Trap" which did for rats what the movie Jaws did for sharks - it gave them a really bad rap!" Rats throughout history in fact have been synonymous with double-crossing and cheating in love, dirty acquisitive merchants in Shakespearean literature, and of course were used to represent the Jews during Hitler's Holocaust.  But it seems they may not really be such rotters after all.

Kind and generous creatures: A rat nudges open the door to free its cagemate stuck in a plastic tube
Kind and generous creatures: A rat nudges open the door to free its cagemate 

According to researchers, they are actually kind and generous. Chicago University scientists housed rats in pairs so that they got to know each other. 

They then placed one in a transparent tube inside the cage, and found that the second rat was distressed until it worked out how to free the first one.To their astonishment, not only did the creatures help cage-mates in distress, they also selflessly shared their treats with them.
Perhaps less surprisingly, the female rats seemed to be more caring than the males.

During the experiment, scientists found that the roaming rat became agitated the sight of its trapped friend, meaning it had picked up on the animal's distress, and, according to the scientists, showing the simplest form of empathy.

But the free animal went much further, learning how to open the tube door, without  being shown, and freeing its cage-mate. This said the researchers, meant the animal was 'putting itself in the other's shoes' – a much more complex form of empathy.

So next time you see a rat trespassing on your turf, remember, they may not be the nasty horrible little oiks we have always thought!

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