Rats May Actually Be Nicest People in New York

Here is a fact about New York City: it is filled with jerks. Here's another fact about New York City: it is filled with rats. Here's a third fact, recently discovered by scientists: rats are actually super nice, possibly (probably) even nicer than New Yorkers.

As Wired reports, a new study has discovered that rats can apparently feel something close to what we'd call "empathy," which is the first feeling that dies when you move to New York (followed quickly by "hope"), and that they will help free other rats trapped inside uncomfortable tubes:

In a study published Dec. 7 in Science, Mason and University of Chicago psychologists Jean Decety and Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal describe their rat empathy-testing apparatus: An enclosure into which pairs of rats were placed, with one roaming free and the other restrained inside a plastic tube. It could only be opened from the outside, which is exactly what the free rats did — again and again and again, seemingly in response to their trapped companions' distress.

The experiment built on research conducted several years ago by geneticist Jeff Mogil at McGill University, where mice were shown capable of "emotional contagion" — a slightly scary-sounding term denoting a tendency to become upset when cagemates were in pain. This might not seem surprising, but anecdotes from wild animal observations don't pass academic scrutiny, and it hadn't before been shown in captive mice. It hinted at unexpectedly sophisticated cognition: Mice were supposed to feel pain, but not each other's, at least not outside children's stories.

Meanwhile, in New York, we cram ourselves into uncomfortable tubes to get to work, and would be really mad at anyone who tried to free us from them.

[Wired]