‘Rats have empathy and avoid actions that can cause pain to fellow rodents — unless the reward is high enough, a study has found.
Harm aversion — avoiding actions that hurt others — is seen as an important part of moral development in humans, but is reduced in violent, antisocial individuals.
Researchers believe that their findings in rats might help scientists to develop drug treatments to increase harm aversion in patients who show psychopathic behaviour.
The research was undertaken by Christian Keysers and colleagues at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam.
‘We share a mechanism that prevents antisocial behaviour with rats, which is extremely exciting to me,’ Professor Keysers said.
‘We can now use all the powerful tools of brain science to explore how to increase harm aversion in antisocial patients.’
To investigate harm aversion in rats, the researchers gave the rodents a choice between two levers that they could press to receive sugary treats.’