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Helpful Rats

July 23, 2007

New research shows rats “pay it forward.”


Rats helping rats. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the Disney Pixar flick Ratatouille, a human and a rat help each other. Well, scientists have recently found that rats who have been helped do in fact help others. In the experiment, a rat in one cage could help a neighboring rat by pulling a lever to release food. A rat that had been helped by his neighbor was more likely to help other rats. Animal behaviorist Claudia Rutte of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland says this could be the foundation of a cooperative society.

CLAUDIA RUTTE (University of Lausanne, Switzerland):
So if we happen to meet somebody who’s helpful or who gives us a smile, we’re automatically more helpful towards anybody else.

The researchers can’t draw conclusions about humans, but Rutte says this behavior could be useful to animals like rats that live in large groups and don’t have good memories for individuals. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.