Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

The bystander effect in rats

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Science Advances  08 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 28, eabb4205
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb4205


To investigate whether the classic bystander effect is unique to humans, the effect of bystanders on rat helping was studied. In the presence of rats rendered incompetent to help through pharmacological treatment, rats were less likely to help due to a reduction in reinforcement rather than to a lack of initial interest. Only incompetent helpers of a strain familiar to the helper rat exerted a detrimental effect on helping; rats helped at near control levels in the presence of incompetent helpers from an unfamiliar strain. Duos and trios of potential helper rats helped at superadditive rates, demonstrating that rats act nonindependently with helping facilitated by the presence of competent-to-help bystanders. Furthermore, helping was facilitated in rats that had previously observed other rats’ helping and were then tested individually. In sum, the influence of bystanders on helping behavior in rats features characteristics that closely resemble those observed in humans.

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