Innovation/Global Risk 

Rats and Husbands: Yes, There IS Proven Similarity 

By Shlomo Maital





 Today’s International Herald Tribune, page 12, has two seemingly-unrelated stories that prove what I’ve always suspected.  Rats and husbands are uniquely similar.

*   A study published in Science by U. of Chicago neuroscientist Dr. Peggy Mason reveals the first documented proof that rats are altruists. (Until now, we thought only humans and chimps had empathy and altruism).  In her experiment,  free-roaming rats had a caged rat placed in their midst. They could free the rat by nudging open the cage door.  In another cage, there was a piece of chocolate.  She found that the free rats were as likely to liberate the caged rat as they were to seek the chocolate. And when they did get the chocolate, they shared it with the ‘prison’ rats.  There is, of course, strong evolutionary logic for altruism.  Rats who collaborate are more likely to survive and reproduce than those who don’t.  Same, by the way, for humans, if only we knew it.  And I’m pretty sure that if we could ask them, the altruistic rats would say they got great happiness from freeing their imprisoned brethren – as much as, or more than, from chocolate.

   *  A study done at U. of Virginia, in its National Marriage Project, found that in marriage, generosity (the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly) conferred huge benefits.  Half the couples with above-average generosity said they were ‘very happy’ together.  Among couples with low generosity scores, only 14 per cent said they were ‘very happy’.   The study cites bringing coffee to your wife in bed in the morning as a small example.  Couples who do or say five positive things for each negative interaction tend to be far more successful. 

   In a previous life, I worked on the branch of mathematics known as game theory. A particularly virulent game known as ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ has two ‘equilibria’ (stable outcomes). One is win-win.  The second is lose-lose.  The winning long-run strategy is ‘be nice’.  But the dominant strategy is, ‘be very not-nice’.   Perhaps that’s why we dislike Wall St.

     So, the next time you call someone (your spouse?) a ‘dirty rat!’,  please, think again.  Rats are nice and helpful.  So are husbands, sometimes.  In the long run, nice rats and nice husbands win.   In that sense, they are pretty much alike.