Yes Even Rats Feel Empathy

It seems quite remarkable to think that rodents could be capable of empathy, hinted by a set of experiments published in Science in 2011. Indeed, the notion that our fellow animals have feelings is often contentious, and it wasn’t so long ago that scientists thought non-human animals were automatons mindlessly responding to stimulus. Before the efforts of studying chimpanzee behaviour conducted by Jane Goodall, the current consensus at the time thought that only humans were capable of using tools. Now we know that even tool-use is a widespread behaviour in the animal kingdom. Humans have a truly remarkable capacity for hubris, and it shouldn’t surprise us that fellow animals, with similarly wired nervous systems to ours, are actually capable of emoting. It is ridiculous to hold the view that at some point 200,000 or so years ago, the accepted date of the arrival of anatomically modern humans, people suddenly began to develop feelings for other members of their species. The Judeo-Christian tradition certainly doesn’t temper the arrogance, and is probably what blinded us so long to the realisation that, yes, even other creatures can suffer. There are the cynical bleats which say that we can’t really prove other animals have empathy…perhaps there is some other motivating factor driving the observed empathetic behaviour. But do people truly behave in selfless ways? How do we know that someone being nice also doesn’t have some other motivation, like perhaps expecting something in return? How many people have had a situation where they have run into difficulties only to find that their supposed friends are now nowhere to be found? If we cannot correctly interpret the motivations of people in their behaviour, then how can we expect the same from other animals? With our sophisticated brains, perhaps we can finally get it into our heads that we are not the only species to possess feelings.

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