Study: Rats aren't selfish, but show compassion

By the Associated Press | December 8, 2011 | 2:26 PM EST

This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows the presence of a rat trapped in a restrainer elicits focused activity from his cagemate, leading eventually to door-opening and consequent liberation of the trapped rat. Rats, despite their selfish reputation, don't act like, well, rats, new experiments show. Instead, rats show empathy, helping freeing trapped fellow rats, often before gorging on yummy chocolate that they could hog all by themselves. A study of rats in Thursday's journal Science shows that 23 of 30 rats opened a cage to free a trapped rodent. Some of them even did that before eating chocolate chips left out for them and instead shared the goodies with the free rats. (AP Photo/Science)

WASHINGTON (AP) — New experiments show that rats, despite their selfish reputation, don't act like, well, rats.

Instead, rats can be compassionate. They freed another trapped rat in their cage, even when yummy chocolate served as a tempting distraction. Twenty-three of the 30 rats in the study opened the cage. The rats could have hogged all the chocolate before freeing their partners, but often didn't, choosing to first help, then share.

Study author Peggy Mason of the University of Chicago said females showed more empathy than males. All six females freed their trapped partner; 17 of the 24 males did so.

Mason said the study showed that pro-social empathy is not limited to humans and primates as some people had thought. The research is reported in Thursday's journal Science.