Empathic rats… and TV
Last week, out of the blue, I received the above video from Oxford Scientific Films. Well, maybe not entirely out of the blue but certainly long after I’d given the footage any thought. Let me explain. In spring of 2013, a producer from Oxford Scientific Films contacted me about filming our empathic rats for use in a documentary to be aired on BBC. I have a great deal of respect for BBC and despite the fact that rats are reluctant “movie stars,” I agreed. I knew that the production would be well done and I wanted our rats to gain the exposure that a BBC show could afford them.
So on Sunday, July 7th, 2013, I met a crew at my laboratory. Filming went well. Victoria Huang and Amisha Gandhi, two University of Chicago undergraduates in my laboratory, had patiently worked with the rats. The rats were so mellow that they were completely non-plussed by the cameras and strangers. They were stars as you can see for yourself. The day was long but quite enjoyable. And we were even able to crowd together and listen to Andy Murray win Wimbledon. Our British visitors were happy and proud.
The show was designed to highlight relationships between individuals from different species. Our work was included because the empathic feeling that links two rats is likely to be related to the feeling that connects two from different species. Originally, we heard that the show would be aired in October. As fall rolled around, no air date was announced and then I was told that the powers that be decided to go in a different direction. I was greatly disappointed, particularly because of the obvious high quality of the production. Actually, the hardest part was breaking the news to Victoria and Amisha who had worked so hard and so effectively.
Within a week or two, I became enmeshed in all manner of other activities and stopped thinking about the un-aired footage from that July day in Chicago. Then out of the blue, I received the above video from Oxford Scientific Films. I am so thankful to them for letting me share this. And I hope you enjoy it.
I want to add one other note. I’ve been trying to write this post for days and keep going off on tangents that have little to do with sharing the video. So let me just say that if you’ve never heard of our empathic rats, I’ve listed some links below to videos and stories about our findings.
- Our original article published in Science (Ben-Ami Bartal, Decety, and Mason 2011) demonstrated that rats will help a cagemate in need.
- Science produced a video on our findings which also received widespread publicity from a number of media outlets.
- We were included in a NOVA Science Now segment entitled, “What are animals thinking?“.
- In January 2014, we showed that rats are socially selective about who they will help.
- Just last month (April 2014), I participated in a Reddit Science AMA (=ask me anything) on rat empathy. The response was amazing – we spent the day on the front page of Reddit.
I find it difficult to know where to start and when to stop when I talk about something so dear to my heart as my laboratory’s work. So I will sign off without saying anything else except: enjoy the video!!