Vol 5, Issue 4, November 2018

When Rats Rescue Robots


Quinn, L. K., Schuster, L. P., Aguilar-Rivera, M., Arnold, J., Ball, D., Gygi, E., Heath, S., Holt, J., Lee, D. J., Taufatofua, J., Wiles, J., & Chiba, A. A. (2018). When rats rescue robots. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 5(4), 368–379. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Robots are increasingly being used to monitor and even participate in social interactions with animals in their own environments. Robotic animals enable social behaviors to be observed in natural environments, or specifically elicited under the control of an experimenter. It is an open question to what extent animals will form positive social connections with such robots. To test this, we familiarized rats to two rat-sized robots, one exhibiting “social” behaviors, including helping, while the other was also mobile but not helpful. When given an opportunity to release the robots from restrainers, as they do for conspecifics, we found that rats did release the robots, and moreover, were significantly more likely to release the helpful than the unhelpful robot. These findings indicate that robots can elicit helpful behavior from rats, and that rats will even discriminate between robots on the basis of their behaviors.


Rat, Robot, Reciprocity, Pro-social