Helping Behavior in Rats

Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal*, Peggy Mason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Empathy refers to the communication of affect or experience between individuals. One possible outward manifestation of empathy is helping. Here we describe the development of a novel paradigm to test for helping in rats. Potential helper rats are allowed to freely roam in an arena where a rat is trapped in a centrally located Plexiglas restrainer. Hour-long experimental sessions are repeated for 12days. Over progressive days, rats open the restrainer door with increasing consistency and at a decreasing latency. Door-opening does not require that the free rat have the opportunity to play with the released rat. It is also of value to the free rat, on a par with highly palatable food, and is socially selective. Furthermore, door opening behavior is blocked by treatment with a benzodiazepine anxiolytic, demonstrating that door opening is emotionally motivated. Despite the many positive virtues of empathic helping, empathy and helping can also produce antisocial consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuronal Correlates of Empathy
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Rodent to Human
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780128053973
ISBN (Print)9780128093481
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • emotional contagion
  • empathy
  • helping
  • prosocial behavior
  • rodents
  • vicarious stress


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