The buddy system has long been a tool for worrying parents and cautious camp counselors, offering a little more security for children (and even adults) when heading into unfamiliar territory. A new study now suggests that rats understand the value of the buddy system too, proving less anxious and more bold when exploring new places with a friend.
The study, recently published in the journal Animal Cognition, details how researchers tracked the exploration or rats as they traversed a large and unfamiliar space on two separate occasions.
On the first occasion, each rat was sent alone into a large and spacious room that they had never seen before. Without fail, each of these rats showed notable signs of discomfort and anxiety - making only hesitant forays into the room before darting back to huddle by the entrance.
Forty-eight hours later, the rats were reintroduced to this same room, either with the addition of a familiar buddy who they often shared a cage with, or alone.
You'd think that even the loners, having already seen the room once, would be less hesitant on their second excursion. However, this didn't appear to be the case. The observable anxiety of these rats did not improve during their second visit.
Interestingly, the buddy groups fared far better, even if the additional buddy was from a group that had never seen the room before. In this case both animals showed less agitation and far more confidence, covering 50 percent more ground and moving around the room significantly faster than the loners.
Now here's where things get really interesting. In a third visit, all the rats involved in the experiment were separated and sent into the room alone once more. Amazingly, the rats that had previously explored the room with a buddy displayed a permanent sense of security, surveying their surroundings far more boldly than the rats that had been lone explorers each time.
According to the researchers behind the study, this may have some interesting implications about communal animals (rats, apes, and even humans) in which group activity could be an exceptionally effective way to fight fear.
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