Phil-rat-thropy: Altruism for animals

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers was this one: “I am an animal. I brake for no one.” (A cynical comeback to the once-common “I brake for animals.)

However,  it looks like our basic animal nature actually includes a generous dollop of do-goodism, judging from this NPR Morning Edition report. Lab rats at the University of Chicago have now proven to the satisfaction of scientists that they will sacrifice themselves to spend hours of persistent effort to free another rat trapped inside a small tube within the larger cages.

Not only do helper rats selflessly devote themselves to comforting their stuck buddy, they also work urgently to find the hidden button that springs the trap. They’ll do this even when the other rat gets released to a different cage, removing any social benefit. They’ll even help a pal when they could be working on liberating chocolate instead!

The scientists were thrilled to have discovered such pure altruism in another species. (I guess they never read Old Yeller.)

Let’s take this as a reminder to give our  left brains a break as we compose our year-end and other funding appeals. Before you start to pile up facts and arguments, seek out your organization’s deeper appeal to our basic natures as creatures on earth: “Here’s another person in pain. Here’s how you can make it better.”

And then there’s this: Even though I really do brake for others, I am still an animal.

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