I've always liked rats. They are cousins to the squirrels, and the ones that I have known have always been very nice. Now science has demonstrated what I already believed to be true, that rats care about their friends.
To summarize, two rats were placed in an "arena." One was confined in a small tube from which it could not escape, and the other was free to roam around the arena. The tube could only be opened from outside, a task that was difficult but could be learned by the free rat. The free rat was clearly distressed by the confinement of the other rat, and would circle the tube, trying to figure out a way to free its friend. Almost all of the free rats in the experiment eventually found out how to open the cage. After discovering the secret, the free rat would always liberate its friend, even though no reward or benefit resulted.
My favorite part is this: when the free rat was presented with two tubes, one containing a confined rat, and the other containing chocolate chips, the free rat would open both tubes and share the treats with the other rat, even though it could have eaten all the chocolate before freeing its friend. In many cases the free rat even carried a piece of chocolate to its friend after releasing it from the tube!
I'm not a big fan of this kind of research. Although it doesn't look like any invasive physical harm was done, the scientists manipulated these rats, placing them repeatedly in stressful, unpleasant situations. However, I do like that the results show that humans don't have a monopoly on empathy or selfless behavior. I think most of us who are around animals and care about them already knew this, but there are many people who apparently are unconvinced. I know that anecdotal observations or impressions does not equal scientific research, but I can remember times when I have been upset, and Beebz, or our cat Sushi, seemed especially affectionate, as if they picked up on my feelings and wanted to comfort me.
Now that they have done their part for research, I would like to see the rats from this study released from the world of research, and placed in homes where they can live with their friends stress-free.
Here is a short video of part of the experiment: