Timid rats use the buddy system

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Timid rats use the buddy system

A friend can make even the shiest creature bold. Rats usually fear strange open spaces, but having a companion by their side makes the rodents more intrepid, scientists report in the current issue of Animal Cognition. Researchers tracked rats’ exploration of a large, unfamiliar room, first alone, then again 2 days later either alone or paired with a familiar cagemate. On their own, rats made short, hesitant forays into the open space before darting back to huddle by the door. Solitary rats’ anxiety in the room didn’t improve on their second visit. But adding a friend, even one who’d never seen the room before, gave the pair the confidence to actively explore, covering 50% more ground and running significantly faster than the control rats. And exploring with company seemed to boost the rats’ sense of security permanently. Placed in the room a third time, once more alone, the socialized rats boldly explored more new places than ever, while solo rats continued to cower. This illustrates that for communal animals like rats—and perhaps humans—friendship can be the best antidote to fear.

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