It turns out that some species in the animal kingdom are, at bottom, as self-interested as humans. However, there are also practitioners of mutual aid. They don’t so much save members of their species out of any empathic impulse as keep the rest of the family or group functioning properly.
Oxford University scientists studied ants and rats to see if species other than humans have empathy.
“Empathy has been proposed as the motivation behind the sort of ‘pro-social’ rescue behaviour in which one individual tries to free another,” said Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, lead author of the article. “However,” he continues, “the reproductive benefits of this kind of behaviour are relatively well understood as, in nature, they are helping individuals to which they are likely to be genetically related or whose survival is otherwise beneficial to the actor.”
“To prove empathy any experiment must show an individual understands another’s feelings and is driven by the psychological goal of improving another’s wellbeing. Our view is that, so far, there is no proof of this outside of humans.”
So while they don’t share humanity’s potential for empathy, ants and rats do have a sort of impulse of mutual aid that is admirable and instructive (for open-minded individuals).
What are they: communist pigs?