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Rats remember who's nice to them—and return the favour.
by KindMeal.my, 26 February 2015
Rats remember who's nice to them—and return the favour.

In recent experiments, scientists discovered that rats were most helpful to individuals who had previously helped them. In fact, a rat rewarding a fellow rat for help—an act called direct reciprocation—is a first among non-humans, said study co-author Michael Taborsky, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

The study was based on Norwegian rats' preferences for two types of food: bananas and carrots. For these wild-type rats, bananas are a favourite—carrots, not so much. In the experiment, each of a pair of rat helpers could deliver one of these tidbits to a rat in another enclosure by pulling on a stick. Eventually, the receiving rat would recognize each helper as either a high-quality helper (if it delivered bananas) or a low-quality helper (if it delivered carrots).

Then, scientists switched the rats' places, so the rats on the receiving end were now able to pull on a stick that would deliver cereal flakes to a certain helper. The rats that had given bananas generally received cereal more quickly and more often than carrot-givers. In the same vein, the rats that had given carrots got cereal less often than the banana-givers did.

But are the rats really rewarding helpers for their generosity?

Researcher Taborsky thinks so, adding that the rats are making a simple association. "Two elements are involved: recognizing an individual, and responding to the quality of service," Taborsky says. In his view, rats clearly use the quality of service they receive to determine how much they give back. Wonder what that says about their tipping habits?

You could try being nice to a rat and perhaps he or she will reciprocate by serving you some bananas; or much easier still, visit one of our KindMeal.my partners and order a meat-free meal. Much better for all concerned! Nibble away now at http://KindMeal.my

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