|A rat allowed to roam around eventually figured out how to set free a trapped cagemate. Rats didn’t offer the same courtesy to stuffed animals, suggesting the creatures have empathy for one another.|
“As humans, we tend sometimes to have this feeling that there’s something special about our morals.”-Christian Keysers, neuroscientist
In a recent study, University of Chicago researchers put a rat into a small cage and allowed another rat to roam free amongst the caged rat for an hour each day. The free would rat immediately attempt to free the caged rat by digging and biting at the cage. After about seven days of this, the free rat would figure out how to open the cage. The two rats would then celebrate with "a frenzy of excited running" (quote from this article).
23 of 30 rats learned to open the cage for trapped rats, but only 5 of 40 rats opened the cage if it was empty (the same went for cages filled with a stuffed animal).
“They are affected by what the other is experiencing"-Matthew Campbell, psychologist
Researchers also presented free rats with both a caged rat and 5 caged chocolate chips ("These rats adore their chocolate." -study coauthor Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal). When presented with the option to open the cages, half of the rats freed the caged rat first. And some "hero" rats even shared the chocolate with their newly freed friends -- on purpose. “It’s not like they missed a chocolate,” Bartal says. “They actually carried it out of the restrainer sometimes but did not eat it.”
What does this say about the view that humans are the only moral creatures? Or that humans are the only creatures with the capacity to think? Are we actually higher on the scale of beings, or are we just different in the same way deer and fish are different from one another?
I find that the notion of humans being above animals is widespread in our culture, even among animal lovers. I frequently hear loving pet owners teasing themselves for "the things I do for these animals." The belief behind this statement is that pets are really not worth the effort it takes to prepare their meals from scratch (in the case of illness or food allergies), spend money on daycare to prevent them from being alone for several hours at a time, etc. However, these are things that any good parent would unquestionably do for his/her children. Are human children more deserving of a good life than animal dependents?
I think that in general, humans are naturally inclined to have stronger attachments to other humans than to animals, so it makes sense that we would prioritize our children over our pets. However, I think that animals are equally as deserving of care, love, and consideration as humans are.
"The pathetic, objectionable truth about our humanity is that all we are is bipedal, potty trained, grave-making animal fuckers who shave their fur off and think that somehow we're above all else that crawls on the land we've dynamite blasted flat."
-Casey Rocheteau, local poet