The piece is actually Study shows lab rats would rather free a friend than eat chocolate
Neuroscientists (which should give away the punch line) at the University of Chicago, are all giddy about their ‘discovery’.
Watch the video. (Note to professor, when one baby cries, others cry in reaction.)
“…pairs of rats that normally shared a cage were placed in a special area, where one was confined to a closed tube with a door that could be opened from the outside while the other remained able to roam around freely.”
Let’s ignore that ‘normally shared a cage’ thing for a moment. Forget their already knew each other. Forget that ‘sharing a cage’ is also familiar, normal and expected.
“The researchers observed that ‘the free rat acted more agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer.'”
I know, its hard, but let’s ignore the non-normal nature of that condition, the unexpected, the non familiar condition. Let’s also ignore the restrained rat, lest its reactions ever enter into the equation.
“As described by Science Daily, ‘After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena.'”
Ignore the ‘back to normal’, attain familiar, remove the unexpected both rats would naturally have sought.
“‘We are not training these rats in any way,” one of the designers of the experiment explained. “These rats are learning because they are motivated by something internal. We’re not showing them how to open the door, they don’t get any previous exposure on opening the door, and it’s hard to open the door. But they keep trying and trying, and it eventually works.'”
There it is again. that ‘something internal’ keeps being ignored, so let’s move on.
“Further variations on the experiment appeared to confirm that the rats were acting out of pure empathy.” But we were ignoring the other rat, why do we think the free rat would not be?
“For example, they would not bother to open the door when a toy rat was placed in the tube. However, they would open it even if it released their companion into a separate area, meaning they were not just looking for company.”
Had they kept the free rat in a shared cage with the toy rat, long enough to become as familiar, normal and expected as the ‘restrained’ rat, we’d be talking about the neuroscientist who ‘discovered’ rats love plastic. Of course we expect the free rat is ‘releasing’ its partner. We just KNOW the free rat KNOWS that ‘releasing’ to some other area is not the same as releasing to its own area. We just KNOW. How? The neuroscientist is watching, from his perspective, projecting his feelings, his knowledge, his expectations into the induction of the events.
“And not only that, but when the rats were offered two tubes — one of which contained their companion and the other a pile of chocolate chips — they were as likely to free the other rat first as they were to start by gobbling all the chocolate. There were also cases in which the rat retrieved the chocolate chips first but didn’t eat them until after freeing the other and sharing the chocolate with them.”
Ignore the ‘depends on how hungry one might be’ thing. Especially if the free rat knew how to ‘release’ the restrained rat already. Also ignore the pesky problem of the restrained rat.
Rats and other animals do feel ’empathy’, if the connection is strong enough already. But no where in the animal kingdom, other than it appears neuroscientists; do animals assume that what they think of what they see means anything.
Neuroscience is filled to the brim these days with filling in the blanks. See something, impose its meaning. Don’t dare just observe and report. Had the neuroscientists at the University of Chicago bothered to stay out of the equation they might have noticed that two rats, who knew each other well, were accustomed to being in the same space, would most likely want to continue that normalcy, and if it took learning how to open some obnoxious barrier to do, they would. If they would not, rats would have disappeared from the planet long ago.
This is a story, not so much about the rats, as it is about the rat watchers. When neuroscience performs these ‘tests’ and induces the results to mean something the neuroscientist would do, the most obnoxious form of science is the result. But ignore that. All those funding agencies do.
Oh, and what the free rat was doing (in every single test) was not empathy. If it had been, the free rat would not have ‘freed’ the ‘restrained’ rat. It would have sat down and become all emotionally distraught at the ‘restrained’ rat’s condition. Researchers don’t get to redefine words to fit their inductive ignorance.