Anxiolytic Treatment Impairs Helping Behavior in Rats

Frontiers in Psychology
Inbal Ben-Ami BartalPeggy Mason


Despite decades of research with humans, the biological mechanisms that motivate an individual to help others remain poorly understood. In order to investigate the roots of pro-sociality in mammals, we established the helping behavior test, a paradigm in which rats are faced with a conspecific trapped in a restrainer that can only be opened from the outside. Over the course of repeated test sessions, rats exposed to a trapped cagemate learn to open the door to the restrainer, thereby helping the trapped rat to escape (Ben-Ami Bartal et al., 2011). The discovery of this natural behavior provides a unique opportunity to probe the motivation of rodent helping behavior, leading to a deeper understanding of biological influences on human pro-sociality. To determine if an affective response motivates door-opening, rats receiving midazolam, a benzodiazepine anxiolytic, were tested in the helping behavior test. Midazolam-treated rats showed less helping behavior than saline-treated rats or rats receiving no injection. Yet, midazolam-treated rats opened a restrainer containing chocolate, highlighting the socially specific effects of the anxiolytic. To determine if midazolam interferes with helping through a sympatholytic effect, the per...Continue Reading


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