Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior

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Mary Deming

PSY 365

4/20/12

Empathy and Pro-social Behavior.

In the article, “Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats,” Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason conclude the experiment and findings of their study about whether rats exude pro-social behavior due to empathy. Housing pairs of rats for 2 weeks, one pair of rats was trapped in a container that could only be opened from the outside. In an unfamiliar situation, unlocking the cage to liberate the caged rat requires the free rat to venture away from the outside safety zone. In the experiment, the free rats learned to open the cage with a mean of 6.9 days. Free rats spent more time around the container when a trapped cagemate was present, and activity peaked when the door was opened halfway. Once the door was opened and the cagemate was free, latency for door-opening decreased day by day suggesting that rats are learning. The results also expressed the prediction that female rats would be more apt to open the doors quickly, due to their nurturing instincts or empathetic tendency. In conditions where free rats were exposed to a container holding chocolate, the latency was increased, but the container was still opened by the rats. If two containers were present, one holding chocolate and one holding a cagemate, the free rats opened both and generally shared the chocolate.

The authors’ conclusions that the rats acted out of empathy and with intention, are consistent with the data. Argument that any of the data is coincidence would be difficult to stand by with the obvious proof. Survival creates instinct to protect each other and forms the ability to be aware of danger, rather than simply curiosity. Rats show many commonalities with humans and their instincts prove empathy to be innate. I believe the experiment proved the authors’ point that empathy indeed exists within rats.

Using rats in experimentation is one way scientists study the behavior of humans. This specific study is a...
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