In helping others we have much in common with the rat

Of course, humans like to think that they are different from animals. We are humans and “they” are animals. But this study suggest that we have much in common with a particular animal that a lot of people find disgusting. An animal that is persecuted relentlessly by humans: the rat.

Bystander Effect
Bystander Effect. Image: Biology Dictionary.

Is a known human phenomenon that when a person is in a group of people who are reluctant to go to the aid of another person, the person who wants to go to help does not do so because those around him are not willing to do it. It is called the “bystander effect” and it describes the blunting of an individual’s urge to help others when they are in an indifferent crowd.

In a study it was found that rats did exactly the same thing. The scientists put a rat in a tube in a cage. When another rat was put in the cage it released the trapped rat. However, when the scientists added two “confederate” rats (rats that were not willing to assist because there were sedated) a fourth rat put in the cage was less likely to help.

The Professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago, Peggy Mason, who is a co-author of the study believes that the experiment sheds light on why humans under similar circumstances do not help each other.

As humans we are no different from these other mammals that we separated from in evolution 70 million-plus years ago.

Postscript: it really has to be said that the human’s disliking of the rat is an act of speciesism. It’s unfair. But humans engage in speciesism all the time. Another example is ranking certain native Australian species above the feral cat which preys upon them. Australians love their native species but they hate the feral cat despite introducing the cat onto the continent many years ago.

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Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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