Behaviour study shows rats know how to repay kindness

Behaviour study shows rats know how to repay kindness
“Remember, we’re all in this together.” Credit: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/Shutterstock

If I scratch your back and you scratch mine, then we're both better off as a result – so goes the principle of reciprocity, one of the most popular explanations for how co-operative behaviour has evolved. But what if one partner provides a better service than another? A paper by Dolivo and Taborsky shows that Norway rats will only give as good as they get.

As humans, we are familiar with the concept of helping those who help us, whether it is by buying rounds of drinks or expelling diplomats. But demonstrating in other species has proved more challenging. Part of the reason for this may be that reciprocity is rarer than might be imagined. But a major factor is the difficulty of establishing an objective means of measuring the costs and benefits of apparently helpful behaviour in the field.

Do as you would have done to you

This is where the laboratory rat comes in. If the economics of behaviour elude field measurement, an attractive alternative is to perform controlled lab experiments. Dolivo and Taborsky trained to pull on a stick that drew a food item within reach of a rat in an adjoining cage separated from them by wire mesh.

They then introduced a further treatment in which an experimental rat was placed in a cage with other caged rats on either side. On one side the rat pulled a stick that provided pieces of carrot to the rat in the central cage, while the other pulled a stick that produced banana pieces. In subsequent trials the focal rat had the opportunity to repay the other rats using the same stick apparatus to deliver food items.

Now, the rats had typically turned their noses up at the carrot and showed a strong preference for the more desirable banana. On the basis that the banana-providing rat should therefore be remembered as the superior partner, the authors predicted that in the test phase the focal rat would more readily help provide for banana-purveying rats than for carrot-offering rats. This proved to be the case, so it did seem that the rats that had provided better help in the past received greater rewards, as expected if they were behaving reciprocally.

Behavioural scientists have questioned the extent to which non-human animals have the capacity to engage in reciprocity without being exploited by "cheats" who take advantage of their kindness. It seems that this is cognitively demanding, in terms of bringing together the memories of who did what and judging how to respond.

Dolivo and Taborsky's latest results show that rats can recall the quality of help provided and by which rat, and adjust their subsequent behaviour so as to invest more time and energy in helping those that helped them. Taken together with the Taborsky group's prior findings that rats are more likely to help a partner that had helped them before than one that had not helped them at all, these results provide interesting insight into how animals are able to manage the challenges of conditional co-operation.

Not just rats

It is increasingly apparent that we shouldn't underestimate the ability of animals to engage in reciprocity. For example, a 2006 study by Alicia Melis and colleagues reported that chimpanzees took into account their experience with potential partners when choosing which to recruit for a collaborative venture.

A similar effect is seen among client fish – those species that are co-operatively served by other species of cleaner fish – which will preferentially associate with they have observed behaving in a co-operative manner. So there is evidence that other animals can assess the quality of partners and behave conditionally – a requirement for reciprocity to work.

The latest paper fits within a resurgence of interest in reciprocity, as researchers take up the challenge laid down by critiques questioning its occurrence in non-human animals. For example, the classic case of blood donation among vampire bats has been revisited with a demonstration that the best predictor of donations received was whether donations had been made.

Meanwhile recent experiments with pied flycatchers also appear to demonstrate that birds will help those that have helped them mob owls in their territories.

Good examples of reciprocity in non-human animals may be uncommon but Dolivo and Taborsky's work supports the view that, where reciprocity does pay, animals can make it work through co-operating conditionally and favouring those partners which provide the best quality help.


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Citation: Behaviour study shows rats know how to repay kindness (2015, February 25) retrieved 21 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-02-behaviour-rats-repay-kindness.html
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Feb 25, 2015
Why haven't some folk learned this? We are all in this world together.

Feb 25, 2015
Why haven't some folk learned this? We are all in this world together.
Why havent some folk learned that it is impolite to post empty comments?I dont like having to share the world with thoughtless and impolite people.

Feb 25, 2015
Leave if it is too much for you. This is a discussion board.

Meanwhile, what I said was exactly what we have to learn right now. I suggest you read it again.

Feb 26, 2015
Leave if it is too much for you. This is a discussion board.

Meanwhile, what I said was exactly what we have to learn right now. I suggest you read it again.
Hey I know - lets put it to music.
https://www.youtu...aU0xbOKs

-Any clue as to how shallow you are? And how insipid and worthless these comments of yours are?

Feb 26, 2015
If you are unable to see wisdom in simple sentences, you are blind.

Are you not aware of how short a time it takes a disease to contaminate the world? Are you unaware that the Earth sees no national boundaries? Did you learn about Spaceship Earth?

Feb 26, 2015
If you are unable to see wisdom in simple sentences, you are blind.

Are you not aware of how short a time it takes a disease to contaminate the world? Are you unaware that the Earth sees no national boundaries? Did you learn about Spaceship Earth?
Some footage from gkams formative years.
https://www.youtu...HLlRP1ro

-Things were so much simpler then werent they? 'Hey maybe if we try real hard we can stop this rain! No_rain no_rain no_rain no_aw shit'

-Hippies were encouraged to make up all sorts of things. Sloganeering became popular because slogans fit the attention span of druggies and also they would conveniently fit on t shirts while remaining readable from a distance.

You freak.

Feb 26, 2015
"-Hippies were encouraged to make up all sorts of things."
--------------------------------------------
I am Vietnam veteran.

How about you? Where were you hiding in 1968?

Feb 26, 2015
"-Hippies were encouraged to make up all sorts of things."
--------------------------------------------
I am Vietnam veteran.

How about you? Where were you hiding in 1968?

Ditto, g... 72-75

I didn't mention my service for almost 30 years - mostly because of derisive commentary made then from those who didn't have any concept of what it takes from and out of you...
Seems some things don't change, it appears...
Thanks to you, tho..

Feb 26, 2015
"-Hippies were encouraged to make up all sorts of things."
--------------------------------------------
I am Vietnam veteran.

How about you? Where were you hiding in 1968?
What does your military service have to do with the FACT that you make up bullshit about science and your past? Oh right - youre a vet like youre an engineer I suppose.

FOR INSTANCE - what gives you the right to lie about plutonium in idaho? What gives you the right to claim to be an engineer when youre not?

You think your supposed military service gives you the right to LIE about these things?

Why just a few hours ago I caught you pretending to know something about complex systems in this thread
http://phys.org/n...ate.html

-You think vietnam gave you the right to make up bullshit like this??

Youre using your supposed military service to justify lying in these threads is foul beyond words.

Feb 26, 2015
And vietvet - what makes you think this congenital liar is telling the truth about being a vet? Hes never offered any proof whatsoever for any of his claims about his past, but he HAS admitted to having no training, degree, or licence to practice enginering even while continuing to claim to be one.

Chances are hes never been to vietnam.

Feb 26, 2015
I guess you really did hide in 1968.

Oops.


Feb 26, 2015
Otto, ask Stumpy, to whom I sent the front page of the newspaper of the Air Force Flight Test Center. Edwards AFB recently sent me a copy, since I never got an original, and it has my picture on it.

Got to do good stuff at Eddie's. Dodged Blackbirds, watched the XB-70s, worked on everything else. 1966-67 was an exciting time there. Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine paid for one of my stories of my work at Edwards. It is in a very long que for publication.

Then, I can tell you how we spied on the Commies from 22,000 feet when I was with the 553d Recon Wing.

I'll send the story and a copy of the check to Stumpy.


Feb 27, 2015
Otto, ask Stumpy, to whom I sent the front page of the newspaper of the Air Force Flight Test Center. Edwards AFB recently sent me a copy, since I never got an original, and it has my picture on it.
Edwards is nowheres near Quang Tri. Youre nothing BUT a liar.
Got to do good stuff at Eddie's. Dodged Blackbirds, watched the XB-70s, worked on everything else. 1966-67 was an exciting time there. Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine paid for one of my stories of my work at Edwards. It is in a very long que for publication.

Then, I can tell you how we spied on the Commies from 22,000 feet when I was with the 553d Recon Wing.

I'll send the story and a copy of the check to Stumpy.
Nobody gives a shit about your made-up war stories. And they certainly dont give you the right to come here and lie and invent science. Do they?

Feb 27, 2015
It might explain their success as a specie and aid their survival long after we are gone.

Feb 27, 2015
"Edwards is nowheres near Quang Tri. Youre nothing BUT a liar."
------------------------------------------

Otto, you are hallucinating. I never mentioned Quang Tri. I left Eddie's for Otis AFB, and Field Four in Florida, then to Korat RTAFB. Where were you? Hiding at home?

Send me an address, and I'll send you a pdf of Desert Wings, the newspaper for the Air Force Flight Test Center, with my picture on it as Airman of the Month.

Where were you again?

"Nobody gives a shit about your made-up war stories."
Want to read the story purchased by Smithsonian? They gave me permission to send it out as long as I stated they owned it and it was printed by permission. I only got $500 for it, but would have paid that to get printed as American History.

Where were you in 1968?

Feb 27, 2015
Otto, I know you do not want to believe others, but i was a smart and eager kid put into a field in which I had substantial skills. My posting at Edwards gave me the chance to define myself, to create and discover who I really am, which is the value of the service. I had more responsibility as a kid than you probably ever got in your life. The service can do that. You either grow to fit it, or you go somewhere else.

Yes, those stories are really true, and some more extreme. Whether you choose to deny them is okay. You are not going to learn from them, anyway. I am talking to those without experience who are not cursed by professional and experiential envy.

Mar 02, 2015
i can't believe you people started a flaming war for this article. Sometimes i wish comments would be moderated....

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