Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rat and ant rescues 'don't show empathy'

Date:
August 12, 2012
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
Studies of how rats and ants rescue other members of their species do not prove that animals other than humans have empathy, according to biologists.

Studies of how rats and ants rescue other members of their species do not prove that animals other than humans have empathy, experts say.
Credit: brianwhittaker / Fotolia

Studies of how rats and ants rescue other members of their species do not prove that animals other than humans have empathy, according to a team led by Oxford University scientists.

Related Articles


Empathy -- recognizing and sharing feelings experienced by another individual -- is a key human trait and to understand its evolution numerous studies have looked for evidence of it in non-human animals.

The ability to rescue another individual in distress, a typical empathic response of humans, appears in several other animals. Two recent laboratory studies led by US and French researchers looked at how rats and ants will attempt to free individuals of the same species they share a cage or nest with which have been restrained. However, writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, the Oxford-led team argues that such studies are not rigorous enough to separate examples of 'pro-social' behavior, the tendency to behave so as to benefit another individual, from genuine empathy.

'Empathy has been proposed as the motivation behind the sort of 'pro-social' rescue behavior in which one individual tries to free another,' said Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, lead author of the article, 'however, the reproductive benefits of this kind of behavior are relatively well understood as, in nature, they are helping individuals to which they are likely to be genetically related or whose survival is otherwise beneficial to the actor.

'To prove empathy any experiment must show an individual understands another's feelings and is driven by the psychological goal of improving another's wellbeing. Our view is that, so far, there is no proof of this outside of humans.'

The team highlights how interpretations of pro-social behavior vary -- rat rescues, for instance, are regarded as being motivated by empathy whilst ant rescues are not -- even though the observed behavior (pulling on the legs or tail of the trapped individual, followed by biting at the restraint) are very similar.

In order to prove empathy any experiment would need to show that individuals changed their response if the circumstances changed; for instance moving away from a trapped individual if that reduced the trapped animal's distress. It would also need to disentangle empathy from acting simply to stop the trapped animal's stress signals -- something that can be psychologically selfish and does not need to involve empathy.

Solving the riddle of empathy would have important implications not just for the sciences but for philosophy and ethics. However, the team concludes scientists will have to come up with new, more rigorous studies to show that empathy exists outside of humans.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Vasconcelos, K. Hollis, E. Nowbahari, A. Kacelnik. Pro-sociality without empathy. Biology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0554

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Rat and ant rescues 'don't show empathy'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120812160800.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2012, August 12). Rat and ant rescues 'don't show empathy'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120812160800.htm
University of Oxford. "Rat and ant rescues 'don't show empathy'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120812160800.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins