The project studied pro-social and empathetic behavior in rats by having one rat restrained in a plastic tube and a cagemate that could release the rat from the outside.
The observed behavior in the social release paradigm, where the free rat opens the door from the outside and releases the trapped rat, may at first glance appear to be an example of prosocial or helping behavior.
Researchers have, however, debated whether door opening is truly empathically motivated or whether door opening occurs for other reasons e.g. the rat on the outside wants social contact with the trapped rat – the rat opens the door because this leads to the reward of being with the other.
Through studies with improvements to the experimental procedure, the project has investigated variables that control the release of the trapped rat and which of these two explanations is the most plausible.