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The science of rat empathy and what it tells us about human kindness

Rats: more human than you think.DISCLOSURE: No rats were hurt in the making of this amazing bit of empathy science. And humans can actually learn from their example.

Most people aren't super into rats.

Otherwise known as Tuesday in New York City.


It's hard to blame them. Between the black plague, killing roughly 10 million people in the last century alone, and nearly ruining the careers of underpaid French cooks, rats haven't exactly gone out of their way to endear themselves to humans over the last several thousand years.

Bottom line: Rats don't give a rat's ass about humans.

But as Discovery magazine reported, there is one thing rats do seem to really care about: each other.

Some scientists ran an experiment to demonstrate that. Here's how it worked:

  1. The scientists put a rat in water (which rats hate). Not enough to hurt the rat, but enough to annoy it.
  2. Then they put another rat in a safer, dry area with a door it could open to save the first rat.

To make things more fun, I'm naming these rats Tippy and Tina. Rat images via Thinkstock.

When the dry rat heard the damp, miserable rat get upset, she came to the rescue.

Tippy and Tina weren't alone. Almost all the rats gave a rat's ass about their buddies. Image by Discover Magazine.

You can watch the video of it here:

Still not satisfied with the result, the scientists ran a more complex test.

What if you bribe the dry rat with food? Will she ignore it to rescue the wet rat in the next chamber?

Scientists presumed it would be easier for the not-in-peril rat to take the obvious selfless route when it was given only one choice. But what if they gave her a delicious bribe (chocolate cereal) and then let her choose between saving her friend and a buffet?

Tina can go right and get delicious cereal or she can go left and rescue Tippy.

The rats, by a significant margin, still usually saved their friend before getting their delicious bribe.

What does that mean?

Rats might care more about each other than things like food, and that prioritization might be encoded in their DNA.

Why should we care about super-thoughtful rats?

It is often argued that humans are inherently selfish — that without guidance, we would all default to killing and stealing and an "every person for themselves" mentality. That we only help others if it helps us. That evolution can't make us selfless; it's something we have to force ourselves to do.

But if rats show human-like qualities (they laugh like us, they dream like us, they like to have selfless lovers) like altruism, that means it isn't a human-learned behavior.

It could be encoded in our DNA. It means humans could be empathetic and kind by default.

It also means that rats and humans have more in common than we think.

An adorable rat not spreading the plague and hugging a tiny teddy bear. Much empathy.

Mind. Blown. Adorably.

Science

MIT’s trillion-frames-per-second camera can capture light as it travels

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

Photo from YouTube video.

Photographing the path of light.

A new camera developed at MIT can photograph a trillion frames per second.

Compare that with a traditional movie camera which takes a mere 24. This new advancement in photographic technology has given scientists the ability to photograph the movement of the fastest thing in the Universe, light.


The actual event occurred in a nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it down to twenty seconds.

time, science, frames per second, bounced light

The amazing camera.

Photo from YouTube video.

For some perspective, according to New York Times writer, John Markoff, "If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years."


In the video below, you'll see experimental footage of light photons traveling 600-million-miles-per-hour through water.

It's impossible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each image. The process has been called femto-photography and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project, "There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

(H/T Curiosity)


This article originally appeared on 09.08.17

Health

Her mother doesn't get why she's depressed. So she explains the best way she knows how.

Sabrina Benaim eloquently describes what it's like to be depressed.

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother."

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother" is pretty powerful on its own.

But, in it, her mother exhibits some of the most common misconceptions about depression, and I'd like to point out three of them here.

Misconception #1: Depression is triggered by a single event or series of traumatic events.

empathy, human condition, humanity

Depression isn’t just over sleeping.

Most people think depression is triggered by a traumatic event: a loved one dying, a job loss, a national tragedy, some THING. The truth is that depression sometimes just appears out of nowhere. So when you think that a friend or loved one is just in an extended bad mood, reconsider. They could be suffering from depression.

Misconception #2: People with depression are only sad.

family, parents, mom, anxiety

The obligation of anxiety.

Most people who have never experienced depression think depression is just an overwhelming sadness. In reality, depression is a complex set of feelings and physical changes in the body. People who suffer from depression are sad, yes, but they can also be anxious, worried, apathetic, and tense, among other things.

Misconception #3: You can snap out of it.

button poetry, medical condition, biological factors

Making fun plans not wanting to have fun.

The thing with depression is that it's a medical condition that affects your brain chemistry. It has to do with environmental or biological factors first and foremost. Sabrina's mother seems to think that if her daughter would only go through the motions of being happy that then she would become happy. But that's not the case. Depression is a biological illness that leaks into your state of being.

Think of it this way: If you had a cold, could you just “snap out of it"?

No? Exactly.

empathy, misconceptions of depression, mental health

Mom doesn’t understand.

via Button Poetry/YouTube

These are only three of the misconceptions about depression. If you know somebody suffering from depression, you should take a look at this video here below to learn the best way to talk to them:

This article originally appeared on 11.24.15

Here's how to be 30% more persuasive.

Everybody wants to see themselves in a positive light. That’s the key to understanding Jonah Berger’s simple tactic that makes people 30% more likely to do what you ask. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the bestselling author of “Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way.”

Berger explained the technique using a Stanford University study involving preschoolers. The researchers messed up a classroom and made two similar requests to groups of 5-year-olds to help clean up.

One group was asked, "Can you help clean?" The other was asked, “Can you be a helper and clean up?" The kids who were asked if they wanted to be a “helper” were 30% more likely to want to clean the classroom. The children weren’t interested in cleaning but wanted to be known as “helpers.”


Berger calls the reframing of the question as turning actions into identities.

"It comes down to the difference between actions and identities. We all want to see ourselves as smart and competent and intelligent in a variety of different things,” Berger told Big Think. “But rather than describing someone as hardworking, describing them as a hard worker will make that trait seem more persistent and more likely to last. Rather than asking people to lead more, tell them, 'Can you be a leader?' Rather than asking them to innovate, can you ask them to 'Be an innovator'? By turning actions into identities, you can make people a lot more likely to engage in those desired actions.”

Berger says that learning to reframe requests to appeal to people’s identities will make you more persuasive.

“Framing actions as opportunities to claim desired identities will make people more likely to do them,” Berger tells CNBC Make It. “If voting becomes an opportunity to show myself and others that I am a voter, I’m more likely to do it.”

This technique doesn’t just work because people want to see themselves in a positive light. It also works for the opposite. People also want to avoid seeing themselves being portrayed negatively.

“Cheating is bad, but being a cheater is worse. Losing is bad, being a loser is worse,” Berger says.

The same tactic can also be used to persuade ourselves to change our self-concept. Saying you like to cook is one thing, but calling yourself a chef is an identity. “I’m a runner. I’m a straight-A student. We tell little kids, ‘You don’t just read, you’re a reader,’” Berger says. “You do these things because that’s the identity you hold.”

Berger’s work shows how important it is to hone our communication skills. By simply changing one word, we can get people to comply with our requests more effectively. But, as Berger says, words are magic and we have to use thgem skillfully. “We think individual words don’t really matter that much. That’s a mistake,” says Berger. “You could have excellent ideas, but excellent ideas aren’t necessarily going to get people to listen to you.”


This article originally appeared on 2.11.24

Pop Culture

A comic about wearing makeup goes from truthful to weird in 4 panels.

A hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

A comic shows the evolution or devolution from with makeup to without.

Even though I don't wear very much makeup, every few days or so SOMEONE...

(friends, family, internet strangers)

...will weigh in on why I "don't need makeup."


Now, I realize this is meant as a compliment, but this comic offers a hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

social norms, social pressure, friendship, self esteem

“Why do you wear so much makeup?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

passive aggressive, ego, confidence, beauty

“See, you look pretty without all that makeup on."

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

expectations, beauty products, mascara, lipstick

“Wow you look tired, are you sick?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

lizards, face-painting, hobbies, hilarious comic

When I shed my human skin...

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

Not everyone is able to turn into a badass lizard when someone asks about their face-painting hobbies. Don't you kinda wish you could? Just to drive this hilarious comic all the way home, here are four reasons why some women* wear makeup:

*Important side note: Anyone can wear makeup. Not just women. True story.

Four reasons some women* wear makeup:

1. Her cat-eye game is on point.

mascara, eyes, confidence

Her cat-eye game is on point.

Via makeupproject.

2. She has acne or acne scars.

acne, cover up, scarring, medical health

She has acne or acne scars.

Via Carly Humbert.

3. Pink lipstick.

lipstick, beauty products, basics, self-expression

Yes, pink lipstick.

Via Destiny Godley

4. She likes wearing makeup.

appearance, enhancement, creative expression

Happy to be going out and feeling good.

Happy Going Out GIF by Much.

While some people may think putting on makeup is a chore, it can be really fun! For some, makeup is an outlet for creativity and self-expression. For others, it's just a way to feel good about themselves and/or enhance their favorite features.

That's why it feels kinda icky when someone says something along the lines of "You don't need so much makeup!" Now, it's arguable that no one "needs" makeup, but everyone deserves to feel good about the way they look.

For some people, feeling good about their appearance includes wearing makeup. And that's totally OK.


This article originally appeared on 05.28.15

Joy

Adorable 'Haka baby' dance offers a sweet window into Maori culture

Stop what you're doing and let this awesomeness wash over you.

If you've never seen a Maori haka performed, you're missing out.

The Maori are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and their language and customs are an integral part of the island nation. One of the most recognizable Maori traditions outside of New Zealand is the haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge usually performed in a group. The haka represents the pride, strength, and unity of a tribe and is characterized by foot-stamping, body slapping, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic chanting.

Haka is performed at weddings as a sign of reverence and respect for the bride and groom and are also frequently seen before sports competitions, such as rugby matches.



The intensity of the haka is the point. It is meant to be a show of strength and elicit a strong response—which makes seeing a tiny toddler learning to do it all the more adorable.

Here's an example of a rugby haka:

Danny Heke, who goes by @focuswithdan on TikTok, shared a video of a baby learning haka and omigosh it is seriously the most adorable thing. When you see most haka, the dancers aren't smiling—their faces are fierce—so this wee one starting off with an infectious grin is just too much. You can see that he's already getting the moves down, facial expressions and all, though.

@focuswithdan When you grow up learning haka! #haka #teachthemyoung #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou #kapahaka ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

As cute as this video is, it's part of a larger effort by Heke to use his TikTok channel to share and promote Maori culture. His videos cover everything from the Te Reo Maori language to traditional practices to issues of prejudice Maori people face.

Here he briefly goes over the different body parts that make up haka:

@focuswithdan

♬ Ngati - Just2maori

This video explains the purerehua, or bullroarer, which is a Maori instrument that is sometimes used to call rains during a drought.

@focuswithdan Reply to @illumi.is.naughty Some tribes used this to call the rains during drought 🌧 ⛈ #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp ♬ Pūrerehua - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

This one shares a demonstration and explanation of the taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon.

@focuswithdan Reply to @shauncalvert Taiaha, one of the most formidable of the Māori Weaponry #taiaha #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

For another taste of haka, check out this video from a school graduation:

@focuswithdan When your little cuzzy graduates and her school honours her with a haka #maori #māori #haka #focuswithdan #fyp #graduation @its_keshamarley ♬ Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Ruanui - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

Heke even has some fun with the trolls and racists in the comments who try to tell him his culture is dead (what?).

@focuswithdan Credit to you all my AMAZING FOLLOWERS! #focuswithdan #maori #māori #followers #fyp #trolls ♬ original sound - sounds for slomo_bro!

Unfortunately, it's not just ignorant commenters who spew racist bile. A radio interview clip that aired recently called Maori people "genetically predisposed to crime, alcohol, and underperformance," among other terrible things. (The host, a former mayor of Auckland, has been let go for going along with and contributing to the caller's racist narrative.)

@focuswithdan #newzealand radio in 2021 delivering racist commentaries 🤦🏽‍♂️ #māori #maori #focuswithdan #racism DC: @call.me.lettie2.0 ♬ original sound - luna the unicow

That clip highlights why what Heke is sharing is so important. The whole world is enriched when Indigenous people like the Maori have their voices heard and their culture celebrated. The more we learn from each other and our diverse ways of life, the more enjoyable life on Earth will be and the better we'll get at collaborating to confront the challenges we all share.


This article originally appeared on 01.28.21