Rats, Like (Some) People, Obey the Law of Quid Pro Quo

By Seriously Science | February 5, 2018 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Tatiana Bulyonkova

Image: Flickr/Tatiana Bulyonkova

Like most animals that thrive in cities, rats get a bad rap. We even use the word “rat” for nasty people, particularly those that go behind your back. But this study suggests that rat society may not be so bad after all. By placing rats in special cages that allow them to give food only to another rat (not themselves), these researchers found that rats will trade grooming for help with getting food. In fact, the more help they got, the more grooming they gave. Maybe it’s time to update the old idiom: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine… or hook me up with some chow.”

Reciprocal Trading of Different Commodities in Norway Rats.

“The prevalence of reciprocal cooperation in non-human animals is hotly debated. Part of this dispute rests on the assumption that reciprocity means paying like with like. However, exchanges between social partners may involve different commodities and services. Hitherto, there is no experimental evidence that animals other than primates exchange different commodities among conspecifics based on the decision rules of direct reciprocity. Here, we show that Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) apply direct reciprocity rules when exchanging two different social services: food provisioning and allogrooming. Focal rats were made to experience partners either cooperating or non-cooperating in one of the two commodities. Afterward, they had the opportunity to reciprocate favors by the alternative service. Test rats traded allogrooming against food provisioning, and vice versa, thereby acting by the rules of direct reciprocity. This might indicate that reciprocal altruism among non-human animals is much more widespread than currently assumed.”

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    I see deeply inbred, genetically uniform rats. I fail to imagine how social interaction among near-clones is in any way pertinent to Park Avenue vs. Inner City. You would sacrifice for your family, right? How have you deeply and repeatedly hurt yourself and your family to decorate the homeless (other than by voting for Obama)?

    • Stephen Voss

      Notice the term “reciprocal” its not altruism at all but mutually beneficial self-interest.Its actually classic adam smith “theory of moral sentiments” a book that does not get as much attention as wealth of nations.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

        Los Angeles’ Rodney King riots increased police salaries and suppressed political and civilian control. Rioters got arrested for arson, burglary and such, then extorted for a ;plea bargain fine while losing commercial trade in their burned out “Inner Cities,” then re-developed out of their communities. Such is the folly of psychology versus sucker punching.

      • Jenny H

        Isn’t that true of ALL altruism? Hoping for reciprocal benefits — if only from the approval of others for you good deeds?? It is what creates social behaviour and cohesiveness.

        • Stephen Voss

          Actually altruism is doing good on to others and expecting nothing in return. Something that benefits others but may harm your own interest or at very least be neutral. An animal may evolve an altruistic behavior because it winds up being a pro-survival for their species.

          • Jenny H

            You mean ‘defined as” not ‘is’. Think about it for yourself.

    • Jenny H

      Rats are highly intelligent and social animals. I would expect that you would see more social behaviour amongst wild rats than amongst the poor laboratory clones.

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