Past event

Dr Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal (Tel-Aviv): "A distinct neural circuit for prosocial intent in rats" School of Psychology and Neuroscience Seminar

This edition of the weekly School of Psychology and Neuroscience Friday Seminars will be presented by Dr Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal (Tel-Aviv University), hosted by Dr Manon Schweinfurth. Her talk is entitled ‘A distinct neural circuit for prosocial intent in rats'.


What are the neural processes that lead to a decision to approach another individual in need and help them out of a tight spot? Multiple factors weigh in on this decision, including empathy and social identity of the one in need. The drive to act prosocially in response to others distress has its evolutionary roots in mechanisms for parental behavior and group living. Using a rodent test of helping behavior, neural activity involved in this process can be examined and manipulated. During the helping behavior test a rat may help a distressed cagemate by releasing it from a trap. Rats typically learn to help after a few sessions, without any previous training or reward. Once they learn how to open the restrainer, they repeat the behavior on subsequent sessions quickly and reliably. Helping depends on the transfer of distress between the free and trapped rats, as witnessed by stress hormone levels and pharmacological manipulations. The social identity of the trapped rat impacts prosocial motivation, as rats demonstrate helping towards in-group members, i.e. rats of their own strain, but not out-group members, strangers of an unfamiliar strain, and these definitions are flexibly determined. We are studying the neural circuitry specifically involved in prosocial intent, and have found a specific network that includes regions in the reward network, as well as the empathy network, that are active in helpers. We've also found that adolescents generalize helping across group memberships, and that their neural activation reveals a critical role for hippocampus in the ontogenetic development of prosocial selectivity.