In 2011, researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a simple experiment to ascertain whether a rat would release another rat from a cage without being given a reward. The answer was yes. After several sessions, the rats learned intentionally and quickly to open the restrainer and release the caged rats. The rats also repeated the behaviour even when they were denied the reward of reunion. Even more astonishing, when the rats were presented with two cages, one containing a rat, the other chocolate, they chose to open both cages and “typically shared the chocolate”.
For the researchers, the conclusion was inescapable: the rats were displaying empathy. Announcing the results in Science the lead researcher, Peggy Mason, explained: “There is nothing in it except whatever feeling they get from helping another individual.”
This is the opening of an article I was reading recently,(read it HERE if you like) it was about Barack Obama, Republicans, gun control, rich people and poor people. I don’t really want to go into the whole political aspect of it. Everyone to their own. Personally I believe all sides of politics, Left or Right, Independent or Green will screw us all over without the slightest hesitation. But I am a cynic.
But what I found interesting about this is not the experiment but the subjects. Rats. How many times have we heard the term Rat Race or the expression: even if you win the race you are still a rat? Quite a lot I bet. Buy why rats? Is it this perception that they are lowly and dirty, poisonous, dangerous. Even in school (I don’t know about other places but here in Ireland) if someone called you a rat it was the worst insult you could receive, it meant you told on someone to a teacher, you ratted on them.
You squealed was another popular expression in the schoolyard, again it implied the same thing and again conjured up the image of the rat. A coward. The lowest of the low.
So the experiment was interesting in that it showed rats in a better light, and yet how strange it is that when rats help each other for little or no reward we call it empathy and when humans do it we call it socialism or communism and it is frowned upon, socialism is one of the worst insults you can throw at a politician in the Western world, it implies weakness.
Funny old world.