Body-budgeting in rats

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Chapter 12 endnote 38, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Many animals can experience unpleasant affect when another animal nearby is suffering. The first animal’s body budget is taxed by the second animal’s discomfort, so the first animal tries to fix the situation. Even a rat will help another rat who is in distress, for example. [...] The act lifts a burden on its body budget.

Rats will free a trapped rat even when they will not be rewarded afterwards, because the act lifts the burden on their body budget. Notably, the act reduces corticosterone, which is the non-human animal version of cortisol.[1] We know this because anxiety medication reduces this helpful behavior.[2]

Rats don’t help strangers, but if they are exposed to a single rat from another group, they will help other members of that group whom they have never met.[3]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Bartal, Inbal Ben-Ami, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason. 2011. "Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats." Science 334 (6061): 1427-1430.
  2. Bartal, Inbal Ben-Ami, Haozhe Shan, Nora Molasky, Teresa Murray, Jasper Williams, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason. 2016. "Anxiolytic treatment impairs helping behavior in rats." Frontiers in Psychology 7 (850), doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00850
  3. Bartal, Inbal Ben-Ami, David A. Rodgers, Maria Sol Bernardez Sarria, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason. 2014. "Pro-social behavior in rats is modulated by social experience." eLife 3: e01385.