JUL 15, 2021 9:34 AM PDT

Like Humans, Rats Help Friends Before Strangers

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Just like humans, rats tend to help members of their own social group before strangers. The findings may help researchers study similar social biases in humans. The paper was published in eLife Sciences by an international collaboration of researchers. 

"Humans, as well as many other creatures, are biased toward helping other members of their social groups over individuals they view as outsiders, and this can have a negative impact in diverse societies where different groups need to cooperate in order to thrive," says Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, a first author of the study. "Understanding the brain mechanisms underlying these biases is essential to finding ways to eliminate them."

For the study, the researchers gathered over 60 pairs of caged rats and monitored them for two weeks. While some rats were from the same strain, others were not. In each case, one of the rats was trapped inside a transparent cylinder while the other roamed free. The researchers observed the rats to see whether being from the same group influenced their desire to help their trapped counterpart.

In the end, the researchers found that while all free-roaming rats would show some signs of empathy to those who were trapped, they would only work to free them if they were a part of the same group. 

To understand why this was the case, the researchers used fiber photometry, immunohistochemistry, calcium imaging, and other diagnostic tools. In doing so, they found that a brain network related to empathy was activated upon seeing any peer- not just one from the same group- in distress. 

However, the network related to reward signaling was only activated when in-group members were in distress. Activation of this network was correlated with helping behavior. 

"We've provided the first evidence for a common biological mechanism driving empathic helping behaviors in humans and rats in response to the distress of friends," concludes senior author of the study, Daniela Kaufer. "Our results lay the groundwork for future studies to better understand the brain activity involved and why it causes us to choose helping some people over others."

 

Sources: eLife SciencesEurekAlertBerkeley News

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
AUG 15, 2021
Neuroscience
Cholesterol in the Brain Linked to Alzheimer's Plaques
AUG 15, 2021
Cholesterol in the Brain Linked to Alzheimer's Plaques
Cholesterol levels in the brain tightly regulate the production of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain, a key feature of A ...
OCT 04, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Studies Reveal Synaptic Disruptions in Schizophrenia
OCT 04, 2021
Studies Reveal Synaptic Disruptions in Schizophrenia
Neurons signal to one another at crucial junctions called synapses, and synaptic dysfunction is thought to play a role i ...
OCT 07, 2021
Neuroscience
New Research Shows Relations Between Testosterone, Competition, and Competitive Endurance
OCT 07, 2021
New Research Shows Relations Between Testosterone, Competition, and Competitive Endurance
Research shows relation between testosterone levels, competitiveness, and competitive endurance
OCT 17, 2021
Technology
AI: The Future of Medtech
OCT 17, 2021
AI: The Future of Medtech
Artificial intelligence (AI) is driving disruption in almost every sector with even the most passing involvement with IT ...
OCT 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
OCT 15, 2021
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
About 236 million people are known to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVD-19. Researchers hav ...
OCT 15, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Oxytocin Therapy Shows No Benefit for Autistic Children
OCT 15, 2021
Oxytocin Therapy Shows No Benefit for Autistic Children
Intranasal oxytocin therapy does not benefit autistic children and adolescents. The corresponding study was published in ...
Loading Comments...