Anxiolytic Treatment Impairs Helping Behavior in Rats

Frontiers in Psychology
Inbal Ben-Ami BartalPeggy Mason

Abstract

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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