The smell of cooperation: rats increase helpful behaviour when receiving odour cues of a conspecific performing a cooperative task

Nina Gerber*, Manon Karin Schweinfurth, Michael Taborsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Reciprocity can explain cooperative behaviour among non-kin, where individuals help others depending on their experience in previous interactions. Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) cooperate reciprocally according to direct and generalized reciprocity. In a sequence of four consecutive experiments, we show that odour cues from a cooperating conspecific are sufficient to induce the altruistic help of rats in a food-exchange task. When rats were enabled to help a non-cooperative partner while receiving olfactory information from a rat helping a conspecific in a different room, they helped their non-cooperative partner as if it was a cooperative one. We further show that the cues inducing altruistic behaviour are released during the act of cooperation and do not depend on the identity of the cue provider. Remarkably, olfactory cues seem to be more important for cooperation decisions than experiencing a cooperative act per se. This suggests that rats may signal their cooperation propensity to social partners, which increases their chances to receive help in return.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20202327
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Volume287
Issue number1939
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Mammals
  • Norway rat
  • Reciprocity
  • Altruism
  • Olfactory signalling

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