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Thread: Do rats have empathy?

  1. #1

    Do rats have empathy?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/nation...jfO_story.html

    "In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.

    The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

    The researchers came to the unavoidable conclusion that what they were seeing was empathy — and apparently selfless behavior driven by that mental state.
    Daniel

  2. #2
    Please. Rats are not a solitary species that claim their own area (say like lions). The more rats, the better to defend against predators, seek out food, possibly have a little rat wife and breed little rat babies. It is an instinct as a result of evolutionary pressures. It is not "empathy".

  3. #3
    Especially if they're conservative.
    And the truth shall set you free.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Wesley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t8burst View Post
    Please. Rats are not a solitary species that claim their own area (say like lions). The more rats, the better to defend against predators, seek out food, possibly have a little rat wife and breed little rat babies. It is an instinct as a result of evolutionary pressures. It is not "empathy".
    or... what we experience as "empathy" is a result of evolutionary pressures not unlike those of the rat. Human behaviors have their roots in instinct, too. Rats may not have language and culture to explain and nurture their instincts, but is it unreasonable to think that we might experience instincts in the similar emotional way? you don't have to be taught to emotionally respond to a baby's cry.

  5. #5
    Human's have the capability of abstract reasoning (well most do). You may have the instinct to do something (eat) but choose to go on a hunger strike. As soon as the rats begin protesting being used in medical experiments and chain their little rat paws to the front of medical facilities you will have a hard time convincing me that they behave on an "emotional" basis. Leave that same rat whose "empathy" lead him to give a food morsel to his little rat buddy alone with a bunch of little rat babies and he starts eating them you would probably revise you whole opinion of rat empathy.

    We do have an instinct to care for our young, I hated kids before I had one and still do, all except mine, pure evolution at work. Empathy to me implies not only feeling someones emotions but caring about them. Rats may have the former but not the latter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wesley View Post
    or... what we experience as "empathy" is a result of evolutionary pressures not unlike those of the rat. Human behaviors have their roots in instinct, too. Rats may not have language and culture to explain and nurture their instincts, but is it unreasonable to think that we might experience instincts in the similar emotional way? you don't have to be taught to emotionally respond to a baby's cry.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Wesley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t8burst View Post
    As soon as the rats begin protesting being used in medical experiments and chain their little rat paws to the front of medical facilities you will have a hard time convincing me that they behave on an "emotional" basis.
    how do animals experience instinctual behavior? Part of it must be emotional because that's how we experience some of our behavioral tendencies. For example, women can be very selective of mates based on a bunch of unconscious factors, but they experience attraction as an emotion. That works for me as far as other mammals, but it's hard to believe that an insect experiences emotion.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Wesley View Post
    how do animals experience instinctual behavior? Part of it must be emotional because that's how we experience some of our behavioral tendencies. For example, women can be very selective of mates based on a bunch of unconscious factors, but they experience attraction as an emotion. That works for me as far as other mammals, but it's hard to believe that an insect experiences emotion.
    There are base emotions I would agree with. Fear, Satisfaction are examples. Empathy is too abstract for me to believe something as primitive as a rat would have. Dogs, maybe, cats (basically rats with pointy ears and more fur) no way.

  8. #8
    Senior Member ~Lin's Avatar
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    What are you using as your basis for primitive? Rats are more like dogs than any of the other animals. I've had rats as pets and fosters, and many were more intelligent than many dogs I've fostered. Most people do not know this about rats due to the public conceptions about them. But they are very clean (self grooming like cats) intelligent creatures. They can quickly learn their names, be litterbox trained, and taught commands or 'tricks' like dogs. Including complex patterns that they have to remember in sequence.

    Yes rats may eat their young or each other in extreme situations, but humans have done that as well. And humans have to overcome that complex abstract thinking (and secondary emotions like guilt) and STILL do so.

    As someone who has worked in animal training for a long time one of my biggest peeves are people anthropomorphizing animals. Guilt is the most common issue seen in dog training, dogs do not experience guilt where they know they did something wrong but are reacting to the stimuli in a learned manner. But, there is a lot that has been learned about how wrong we've been about how animals think and react. Theres much room for new. Is it empathy, I don't know, maybe it isnt and maybe it is but still not empathy in the same way humans experience emapthy.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member Wesley's Avatar
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    interesting you mention dogs, because they seem to have evolved an incredible ability to observe human behavior and respond in a variety of ways. I have some friends that have a dog that senses seizures and encourages their child to lay down before they happen. No training, just learned it spontaneously.

    I definitely agree that using words like empathy concerning animals is confusing. I wonder how the scientists themselves view their research. I bet the story was pitched that way to garner attention.

  10. #10
    Dogs have been bred to be human companions for at least 4 thousand years. They are bred to provide comfort and companionship and it is instinct for them. No one loves dogs more than I do, but they are animals. I think one of the cruelest things people do is assign too much "feeling" to dogs. Particularly when the animal is sick. I have friends that put their dogs through chemo, or let them live in pain for other reasons and it really bothers me. It is selfish to let an animal suffer because you will miss their company. An animal in pain doesn't think, "man this sucks but at least I can enjoy the beautiful sunrise" all it knows is pain.

    In the last 5 years I have been doing a lot of AI work, first genetic algorithms now branching into artificial life. The difference between the two is in GA the AI construct can only behave according to its "genes" and any learning is done via reproduction. Artificial life allows the construct to learn from its environment. Just from the nature of the work I have thought a lot about these topics recently. All I see in the rat's behavior is what is programmed in its DNA, an action that was either not detrimental enough to prohibit it being passed along or actually beneficial and re-enforced over time by being passed along on the genetic code.

    People have a mix of both, but since we are self programming we can actually act against our instinct. Which in itself is a beneficial trait I guess.

    At the end of the day you are probably right, I imagine being a rat researcher you have to make up some wild crap to get noticed

    Quote Originally Posted by Wesley View Post
    interesting you mention dogs, because they seem to have evolved an incredible ability to observe human behavior and respond in a variety of ways. I have some friends that have a dog that senses seizures and encourages their child to lay down before they happen. No training, just learned it spontaneously.

    I definitely agree that using words like empathy concerning animals is confusing. I wonder how the scientists themselves view their research. I bet the story was pitched that way to garner attention.

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