Rats show direct reciprocity when interacting with multiple partners

Nina Kettler*, Manon Karin Schweinfurth, Michael Taborsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Direct reciprocity, where individuals apply the decision rule ‘help someone who has helped you’, is believed to be rare in non-human animals due to its high cognitive demands. Especially if previous encounters with several partners need to be correctly remembered, animals might either stop reciprocating favours previously received from an individual, or switch to the simpler generalized reciprocity mechanism. Here we tested the decision rules Norway rats apply when interacting with multiple partners before being able to return received help. In a sequential prisoner’s dilemma situation, focal subjects encountered four different partners that were either helpful or not, on four consecutive days. On the fifth day, the focal subject was paired with one of the previous four partners and given the opportunity to provide it with food. The focal rats returned received help by closely matching the quantity of help their partner had previously provided, independently of the time delay between received and given help, and independently of the ultimate interaction preceding the test. This shows that direct reciprocity is not limited to dyadic situations in Norway rats, suggesting that cognitive demands involved in applying the required decision rules can be met by non-human animals even when they interact with multiple partners differing in helping propensity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3228
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2021


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