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Kathy Vu
Professor Haas
Writing 39C
22 April 2016
Literature Review of Rats’ Emotions and Feelings: Does Jerry Have Feelings?
If asked right off the bat, “Do you watch Tom and Jerry?” children and adults will most
possibly reply, “The cat and the mouse?” The 1940s animated short films of Tom and Jerry, are
well known for the comedic fights between Tom (a cat) and Jerry (a rat). Jerry, is portrayed as a
smart, cunning animal and in some episodes, Jerry shares an emotional bond with other rats whether it is the bond of siblings, the bond of love, or the bonds of trust. However, did the
creators abruptly become creative and envision a whole scenario of rats having feelings? Or, was
the ability to love and hate in rats questioned during this era of time?
The modern word emotion can be defined as feelings, moods, or affect within affective
neuroscience, the study of neural mechanisms of emotions (Wikipedia). Even though the study of
emotions in humans and animals has dated as far back as the 19th century with biologist and
scientist, Charles Darwin, results of studies are only beginning to prosper today. Darwin tries to
link animal emotions with human characteristics such as: blushing or lifting an eyebrow in his
book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. This led to his theory that man and
animals are descendants of a common ancestor (Black 1). Darwin’s theory set the foundation for
today’s research resulting in many notable findings that will be discussed in this review.
In this review of scientific literature, I will discuss the studies that have been performed
by prominent researchers in the biological and neuroscience field that conclude rats have feelings

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and emotions analogous to humans. First, I will discuss studies performed by Inbal Ben-Ami
Bartal, Jean Decety, Peggy Mason that confirm rats are capable of empathy and compassion.
Then, I will discuss studies done by Jaak Panksepp that prove rats express joyful and playful
feelings. After, I will discuss the emotional feeling: regret, an emotional thought to be solely
human. Finally, I will explain the moral issues of the modern ideals in the 21st century regarding
the use of rats in unethical animal testing.
Empathy and Compassion
Humans are capable of grief; we mourn the loss of family members and close friends.
During these periods of grief, other humans, mostly close family and friends share empathy by
comforting the one grieving (Kluger 53).
Empathy and compassion can both be defined as the ability to understand and share
sympathetic feelings of another. A study about whether or not rats show signs of empathy has
been conducted by: researcher fellow, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal; Professor of Psychology, Jean
Decety; and Professor of Neurobiology, Peggy Mason found in the scholarly journal, Empathy
and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats. After the study had been conducted, they conclude that rats are
driven by their ability to have empathic and compassionate behavior in their biological roots
(Bartal; Decety; Mason 1427).
This “empathic helping test” started with one free rat and one caged rat. The caged rat
was in an arena and the free rat placed in; once placed in, the free rat is observed to check its
surroundings and make all possible attempts in order to free the restrainer and help its cagemate
become free (Fig. 1). On the first opening, the free rat is observed to freeze due to shock, this is
because of the surprise fall of the door, which it did not expect to happen. However, once the free
rat is able to free its cagemate, both rats show signs of licking and playing around with each

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other. By the last test (same methodology), the freed rat no longer shows signs of “freezing” to
the caged door, and seems to have grasped the idea of opening the caged door (1428).
In this same study, Bartal, Decety, and Mason decides to take it a step further and add two
restrainers in the arena. For the second restrainer, five chocolate chips were placed inside. The
purpose of this was to test whether or not the free rat would still try to free its cagemate. The
resulting data shows that the free rat opened both restrainers and ended up sharing chocolate with
the liberated rat (1430). Bartal, Decety, and Mason also suggested that rats are intelligent
because they noticed that the rat would only make an effort to open the cage if a restrained rat
was trapped inside; the rat did not open the door of an empty cage or a cage containing a toy rat
(1427). A notable piece of information from this study is that even if the free rat was prevented
access to the caged rat, the free rat continues to attempt to open the caged door. The rat
accomplishes this task, which concludes that the free rat truly wants to help release the trapped
rat, which leads to the conclusion that rats are biologically empathic-driven non primate animals

Figure 1. Set up of the free rat and trapped
rat. Bartal.
In response to learning of Bartal’s,
Decety’s, and Mason’s study, Jaak
Panksepp, a well-known neuroscientist and
psychobiologist, implies a questionable
theory. In his 2011 journal, Empathy and the Laws of Affect, Panksepp questions the key concern
of the rat’s motivation in helping the caged rat. He states, “[...] it is unclear whether the rats

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sympathize with the distress of the cage-mates or simply feel better as they alleviate the
perceived distress of others” (1358). Instead of suggesting that empathy is driven in the
biological roots, in other words, rats and mice are born empathic, Panksepp proposes that the free
rat helped the caged rat due to the neurochemicals in the brain. These brain mechanisms involved
in “[generating] psychological pain endangered by perceiving the distress of others” affects the
animal’s willingness to help each other (Panksepp 1358). Therefore, Panksepp emphasizes on the
necessity to understand the animals higher cognitive and lower affective parts of the brain to
clear up confusion with empathic-driven biological roots (1358).
Compared to Darwin’s era, the modern era today is more technologically advanced.
Hence, Bartal, Decety, and Mason has scientific observations and tests to prove that rats have
empathy-driven behavior in their biological roots. Nonetheless, more studies can always be
performed to align with these theories and confirm the test results.
Joy and Playfulness
Watching a little child’s face light up when you say, “Let’s go get some ice-cream!” is
joy. Joy and playfulness can simply be defined as happiness. Do rats’ face light up when we say,
“Let’s go get cheese?” Do their whiskers twitch back and forth? Probably not, only because
human and rodent communication methods are so limited and different. Yet, Jaak Panksepp,
(mentioned earlier) also known as the “rat tickler,” discovered that rats have the ability to laugh
In Jaak Panksepp’s own scientific review, “Neuroevolutionary sources of laughter and
social joy: Modeling primal human laughter in laboratory rats,” Panksepp and his colleague,
Brian Knutson, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Stanford University,
claims that laboratory rats are capable of laughter (233). Panksepp starts his review by

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explaining that rats experience the seven primal emotions that regulate their behavior just like
humans. These primal emotions are: “SEEKING [enthusiasm],” “RAGE,” “FEAR,” “PANIC,”
“CARE,” “LUST,” and “PLAY” (233). For this review, I will focus on the primal emotion,
According to Panksepp, other behavioral scientists were against this study and found it
“embarrassing” that such prominent researchers would consider focusing on this area of study
(236). Despite other’s critique, Panksepp and Knutson continued their research; they discover
that rats made 50 kHz ultrasonic “chirping” type vocalizations, which Panksepp refers to as the,
“rat laughter” (234). The ultrasonic sound is greater whenever rats are tickled playfully by the
human hand; this notion is defined as “Heterospecific Hand Play,” which Panksepp refers to as
“tickling” for simplicity (234). During this study, the rats are observed to continue their playful
behavior and exempt joyful feelings if they feel they are in a safe environment. If a predator was
nearby, for example, a cat, their “rat laughter” is significantly reduced (234). The rats exhibited
higher sound frequencies when tickled at the nape area of their neck, where most animals “target
their own play activities” (235). After multiple tests of “tickling” the rats and recording their “rat
laughter,” Panksepp concluded that his hypothesis is valid: rats can have playful, social
interactions which indicates their “willingness to social engagement” (231). During these social
encounters, Panksepp believes that opioids, substances that relieve pain, are released to the brain
(Stock). Therefore, rats are capable of joy, they exhibit playful feelings which generate social
bonding and even seeks out for a merrier time with the hand that had tickled it (235).

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Figure 2. 50 kHz chirps also known as “rat
laughter.” Panksepp, YouTube.
As humans, we constantly feel
regret. We regret not speaking up about an
issue, or we regret procrastinating on an
important assignment. There are a variety
of different ways to feel regretful. Regret is defined as a sad feeling over a loss or missed
opportunity. One important fact to note is that regret is not the same as disappointment.
Disappointment is feeling sad because one got their hopes up (Johnston 2). Before this study was
conducted, regret is believed to be a human quality; this type of feeling brings up the question,
are rats so complex as to feel regret like humans? Are they aware of different opportunities or do
they feel disappointed when a playmate lets them down?
A study, “Restaurant Row,” conducted by A. David Redish, a distinguished Professor of
Neuroscience, and Adam P. Steiner, a researcher, can be found in their scientific article,
“Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of regret in rat decision-making on a
neuroeconomic task.” Regret is an emotion that no other nonhuman animals have ever been seen
to possess until Steiner and Redish performed their study on rats (Steiner; Redish 995). In order
to test their theory that nonhuman animals can experience regret, Redish and Steiner set up a
“restaurant,” for the rats. Each restaurant contained different flavors: cherry, banana, chocolate,
and unflavored (Steiner; Redish 995). The rats had a limited amount of time (about 60 seconds)
to forage for food. Steiner and Redish observed that when rats skip over a certain type of food,
they often feel regret (Fig. 3). Certainly, regret is a tremendous assumption; however, Steiner and

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Redish noted that when humans feel regret, the orbitofrontal cortex (OBF) is activated (995). If a
human does not carry this trait, they will not experience regret. Homogenous to humans, the rats
that were assumed to feel regret, released 951 neurons from their orbitofrontal cortex and 633
neurons from their ventral striatum (vStr) (996).

Figure 3. Set up and analysis of rat’s
brain activity. Bissonette; Bryden;
Therefore, rats are much more
intelligent nonhuman animals than
we credit them to be.
The question of whether or not animals are capable of having feelings have been
theorized since the 19th century with Charles Darwin. Today, modern science has the
technological advancements that can test these theories. Prominent researchers such as Jaak
Panksepp, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, A David Redish, etc… have all contributed to the findings of
the neuroscience behind nonhuman animal’s feelings and emotions. Panksepp and Knutson
observed that rats are capable of laughter; Redish determined that rats are capable of feeling
regret; and Bartal, Decety, and Mason discovered that rats are biologically empathic-driven. In
this modern era, it is not strange to see the use of rats in laboratory and product testing. Provided
that rats are intelligent and capable of feelings and emotions comparable to those of humans;
therefore, I believe using these creatures is morally wrong for unethical testing.
Works Cited

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Bartal, I. B.-A., J. Decety, and P. Mason. “Empathy And Pro-Social Behavior In Rats”.
Science 334.6061 (2011): 1427-1430. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
Bissonnette, Gregory B., Daniel W. Bryden, and Matthew R. Roesch. “Figure 1: Neural
Encoding of Regret in OFC and Ventral Striatum in Rats Performing the
Restaurant Row

Task.” Nature Publishing Group, 25 June 2014. Web.

06 May 2016.
Black, John. “Darwin In The World Of Emotions”. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
95.6 (2002): 311. Web. 05 May 2016.
“Emotion”. Wikipedia. N. p., 2016. Web. 05 May 2016.
Johnston, Ian. “Rats Are Capable of Feeling Regret, Scientists Say.” The Independent.
Independent Digital News and Media, 8 June 2014. Web. 08 May 2016.
Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Mystery of Animal Grief”. N.p., 2013. Web. 05 May 2016.
Panksepp, Jaak. “Empathy and the Laws of Affect.” Science. American Association for the
Advancement of Science, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 08 May 2016.
Panksepp, Jaak. “Neuroevolutionary Sources Of Laughter And Social Joy: Modeling Primal
Human Laughter In Laboratory Rats”. Behavioural Brain Research 182.2 (2007):
231-244. Web. 06 May 2016.
Steiner, Adam P., and David A. Redish. “Behavioral and Neurophysiological Correlates of
Regret in Rat Decision-making on a Neuroeconomic Task.” Nature Neuroscience

995-1002. Web. 03 May 2016.

Stock, Robin. “Jaak Panksepp.” Psychology History. Muskingum University. Web. 05
May 2016.

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“The Science of Emotions: Jaak Panksepp at Tedxrainier”. YouTube. N. p., 2016. Web. 25
Apr. 2016.
Weintraub, Pamela. “Discover Interview: Jaak Panksepp Pinned Down Humanity's 7 Primal
Emotions.” Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing Co., 31 May 2012. Web.
07 May