Philosophy of AR > Morality > Speciesism
Animal's Empathy

 Empathy and Action - Don't Give Up!

"A thought for your new year: humans aren't the only creatures who look out for 'auld acquaintances' in this tough and sometimes indifferent world. I'm talking about empathy... Empathy isn't exclusive to Homo sapiens, said the scientists who ran this experiment, 'it is part of our biological inheritance.'

Article by Jennifer Scarlett, President, SF SPCA


Empathy and Animals - January 4, 8:41 AM

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? -- 'Walden,' Henry David Thoreau

A thought for your new year: humans aren't the only creatures who look out for 'auld acquaintances' in this tough and sometimes indifferent world. I'm talking about empathy. A recent news story attracted a lot of attention by showing how a lab rat would help another rat without the promise of a reward. It even bypassed a treat to free its cage mate from an uncomfortable container, and shared its stash of chocolate chips (confess: would you?). Empathy isn't exclusive to Homo sapiens, said the scientists who ran this experiment, 'it is part of our biological inheritance.'...

Whether we're peace-making ravens or distressed mice or compassionate humans, we can all risk opposition -- or giving up a treat -- to bring about change. Happy new year.

by Jennifer Scarlett - December 14, 2011 8:46 AM

A recent paper in Science discussed behavioral data in rats suggestive of empathically motivated behavior. This is a potentially very important report for two major reasons.

First, a deep understanding of the mental and psychological abilities of rats, and other species, is a crucial goal for comparative psychologists, evolutionary biologists and other basic scientists.

Second, the autism spectrum disorders are characterized by atypical reciprocal social interactions, and difficulty with ePublishxperiencing and understanding the emotions of others appear to contribute; therefore, an animal model system in which we can learn how the brain responds to and processes the emotions of others is crucial to progress in this area. For these reasons, the experiments address a very significant question.

by darioringach - December 13, 2011 8:47 AM

Anyone who's kept up with the latest and greatest about the cognitive, emotional, and moral lives of nonhuman animals ("animals") knows "surprises" are being uncovered almost daily and that many non-primate animals are showing intellectual and emotional capacities that rival those of the great apes. Some of my recent essays have been real "downers" but now I can write about some fascinating new results that are far more uplifting, data that caution against our tooting our "we're so special" horn too loudly or proudly...

Much research is showing that human and nonhuman animals are inherently compassionate and empathic and that it's really easy to expand our compassion footprint. Thus, the comments of Peggy Mason ring true: "When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance ... If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we'd be better off."

by Marc Bekoff - December 11, 2011 5:48 PM

In later years, the taboo on animal empathy began to lift and people became happier to ascribe it to the wider animal kingdom. In 2006, Dale Langford from McGill University returned to Church's work and produced more evidence that rats can feel empathy. She showed that mice become more sensitive to pain when they see their cagemates in it.

It seemed that rats are sensitive to each other's emotions, 'catching' them from one another. But Bartal wanted to know if this 'emotional contagion' would actually motivate rats to help one another. Would empathy lead to action? Arguably, Church showed as much back in 1959, but psychologists have wondered whether the rats stopped pressing the levers out of concern for their fellows, or out of fear that their own floors would be electrified. Bartal needed a new experiment.

by Ed Yong - December 11, 2011 9:17 AM
Chicago, IL, USA. The observation of empathy in rodents places the origin of pro-social helping behavior earlier in the evolutionary tree than previously thought.

While emotional contagion is the simplest form of empathy, the rats' subsequent actions clearly comprised active helping behavior, a far more complex expression of empathy. After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena. - December 10, 2011 1:03 PM
New research from the University of Chicago shows rats get just as much pleasure from helping each other as they do from eating chocolate! - December 10, 2011 8:10 AM
Movie S1: Five minutes of activity from representative rats in the object, empty and trapped conditions are shown. All movies are sped up by 6 times.

Rats Feel Each Other's Pain

- Helping Your Fellow Rat: Rodents Show Empathy-Driven Behavior

The first evidence of empathy-driven helping behavior in rodents has been observed in laboratory rats that repeatedly free companions from a restraint, according to a new study by University of Chicago neuroscientists. - December 9, 2011 10:33 AM

Calling someone a "rat" is no compliment, but a new study shows that rats actually are empathetic and will altruistically lend a helping paw to a cage mate who is stuck in a trap.

Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mate; they will do so even when there's a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate.

Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, who has studied empathetic behavior in mice, says this is a surprising study. - December 8, 2011 1:10 PM

Empathy lets us feel another person's pain and drives us to help ease it. But is empathy a uniquely human trait? For decades researchers have debated whether nonhuman animals possess this attribute. Now a new study shows that rats will free a trapped cagemate in distress. The results mean that these rodents can be used to help determine the genetic and physiological underpinnings of empathy in people.

That's a necessary first step toward empathy, but it's not sufficient, says neuroscientist Jean Decety of the University of Chicago in Illinois, a co-author of the new study. To truly empathize, one needs to understand on some level what the other individual is experiencing, as when a mother senses what's upsetting her child. Only then can she help, Decety says.

by Dan Ferber - December 8, 2011 12:55 PM
A new study suggests that rodents are far more altruistic than previously thought...

In the last couple decades research on empathy and helping behaviors in animals has become more prevalent. "At first people were scared away from this research because they didn't want to be derided as anthropomorphic," Mogil says. "More and more evidence is coming along that all mammals can do this sort of thing. I think fear over the word anthropomorphism is starting to subside."

If anything, recent science shows us that we are not as guilty of endowing animals wPublishith uniquely human qualities as we are of failing to understand just how many qualities animals and people share.

By Ferris Jabr - December 8, 2011 12:45 PM

Whereas human pro-social behavior is often driven by empathic concern for another, it is unclear whether nonprimate mammals experience a similar motivational state. To test for empathically motivated pro-social behavior in rodents, we placed a free rat in an arena with a cagemate trapped in a restrainer. After several sessions, the free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate.

Rats did not open empty or object-containing restrainers. They freed cagemates even when social contact was prevented. When liberating a cagemate was pitted against chocolate contained within a second restrainer, rats opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate. Thus, rats behave pro-socially in response to a conspecific's distress, providing strong evidence for biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior. - December 2, 2011 8:00 AM
Can animals learn to share, cooperate, punish, and show empathy?.

Nearly four years ago, a visitor to Brookfield Zoo, outside Chicago, captured an extraordinary event on video. A 3-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure and was knocked unconscious. Within moments, Binti Jua, a female gorilla, approached, picked up the unconscious boy, and cradled him in her arms. Then she walked over and gently put the boy down in front of the caretaker's door. The event captured the nation's heart as newspaper headlines blared: "Gorilla Saves Boy."

Most reports suggested that Binti saved the boy because she felt empathy for him. - January 7, 9:58 AM
New research suggests that rats are capable of true empathy for their fellows, and a news report hints that at least one elk cares for the well-being of marmots.

Some research has suggested that some animals, including mice, may be able to experience 'emotional contagion,' or the basic mirroring of another individual's painful or pleasurable experiences. Mice may lick their own paws after seeing compatriots' paws pricked by researchers' needles, for example. But emotional contagion isn't the same thing as empathy ' it's more a kind of a precursor or steppingstone to it. And until this December, no research had been published showing that animals such as mice or rats were capable of correctly understanding and reacting to the experiences of others, a common definition of true empathy.

That changed when University of Chicago neuroscientist Jean Decety and colleagues Peggy Mason and Inbal Bartal published the results of a study in Science magazine showing that rats were actually able to empathize with, and act to help, their fellows.

by Connor Wood - January 4, 10:46 AM
Empathy, Emotional Resonance, or DNA?
By Lee Charles Kelley...

In an online discussion, neurobiologists J. David Jentsch and Dario Ringach ' both from the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA ' offered several alternative interpretations of the data, which don't require that the rats exhibited empathy or behaved in an altruistic manner.

Evolutionary psychiatrist, Jaak Panksepp ' writing in the same edition of Science Magazine that published the rat-empathy paper ' points out, "It is unclear whether the rats sympathize with the distress of their cage-mates, or simply feel better as they alleviate the perceived distress of others. - December 14, 2011 12:36 PM
Ethics must be firmly implanted in conservation biology By Marc Bekoff...

A forward-looking and long overdue symposium called Compassionate Conservation will be held from September 1 - 3, 2010 in Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford. The meeting, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Born Free Foundation, will focus on major themes including animal welfare and the conservation of wild animals, captive animal welfare and conservation, conservation consequences of wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release, and the international trade in live wild animals....

When we close our hearts to animal sentience, we ignore and violate nature. Conservation biologists like to talk about re-wilding nature and building corridors through which animals can move undisturbed. Compassionate conservation will help us re-wild our hearts and build corridors of compassion and coexistence where we can all travel together.

by Marc Bekoff - December 13, 2011 9:05 AM

Rat Empathy and the Animal Research Paradox

Does empathy give rats moral standing? By Hal Herzog, Ph.D....

The Chicago studies were not the first experiments showing empathy in rodents. That distinction falls to a 2006 study by researchers at the Pain Centre at McGill University who found that mice can feel each other's pain. Unlike the rat study, the 800 animals used in the mouse empathy studies did suffer. Many of them were subjected to painful "writhing tests."

The nostrils of others were flooded with caustic chemicals which fried their smell receptors, and some were injected with a chemical called kanamycin every day for fourteen days which left them permanently deaf. You would think that animal activists would have been enraged by the study. This was not the case. Indeed, the study was lauded by many animal protectionists who normally oppose invasive research. The reason is that they felt that it showed that even lowly mice experience the same sorts of mental experiences as humans - and, hence, should not be used in research. - December 12, 2011 7:06 PM
Some fascinating new results about empathy in laboratory rats caution against our tooting our "we're so special" horn too loudly or proudly.

All in all, discoveries like this demand that we keep an open mind on who other animals are and what they are capable of. As I and others have concluded time and time again, we need "to debunk the myth of human exceptionalism once and for all. It's a hollow, shallow, and self-serving perspective on who we are. Of course we are exceptional in various arenas as are other animals. Perhaps we should replace the notion of human exceptionalism with species exceptionalism, a move that will force us to appreciate other animals for who they are, not who or what we want them to be. And, what's really the most important question is what makes individuals unique as there are wide-ranging individual differences within all species, including Home sapiens."

by Marc Bekoff - December 11, 2011 3:30 PM

Study: Rats Show Each Other Compassion, Empathy

You've probably heard of empathy. It's the ability to share another's feelings, and it's what keeps us from acting like rats to each other. Figuratively, that is. Turns out rats are actually pretty good at this empathy thing.

KABC reports.

"New research shows that rats get a bad rap."
"And that's because they don't act like, well, rats, right? Researchers from the University of Chicago say rats can show compassion, even empathy. And in one experiment rats had to decide: free another rat trapped in a cage or eat a tempting treat. Well, 23 of the 30 rats freed their pal first and then shared the treat." - December 13, 2011 9:09 AM Observatory: Rats Have Empathy, Study Finds: NY Times

A new study in the journal Science has found that rats can be helpful ' the first instance that such behavior has been documented in rodents...

The free rats were just as likely to free the caged rat as they were to liberate the chocolate and eat it. Moreover, when they got the chocolate they almost always shared it; on average, they would leave about one and a half out of five pieces for the caged rats, Dr. Mason said.

There was also a difference in the behavior of male rats and female rats.

'The females, once they open the door, they open the door every day, and within a few minutes,' Dr. Mason said. 'But the male rats would occasionally take off a day. - December 10, 2011 9:03 AM

Rats Show Empathy, By Freeing Trapped Companions | Audio: NPR: Science Friday

Reporting in Science, researchers write of an experiment in which rats worked to open the cages of trapped rats, but not empty or dummy-filled cages.

Author Peggy Mason discusses empathy in non-primates, and the value rats place on freeing a companion--about equal to that of a stash of chocolate chips.
December 9, 2011

img - December 10, 2011 8:09 AM
Video: Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats (s2)

Movie S2: Learning to open the door. Activity of the same free rat on days 1, 5, and 12 of the paradigm is shown. On day 1, the rat does not open the restrainer and 5 min of activity is shown at 20 times real time speed. On day 5, the rat opens the restrainer door for the first time 25 min into the session. Note the momentary startle at the door falling and the extended interaction with the liberated rat. On day 12, the rat opens the restrainer within the first minute. There is no startle and much less interaction between the two rats. Activity from days 5 and 12 are shown at real time. - December 8, 2011 1:32 PM

Rats have been wrongly maligned and are actually kind hearted, generous creatures

Their name has become synonymous with double-crossing in life and doing the dirty in love. But rats may not be such rotters after all.

Research suggests that the much-maligned rodents have got a bad rap and they are actually kind, generous creatures.

The idea comes from American scientists who set out to research whether lab rats can feel empathy.

To their astonishment, not only did the creatures help cage-mates in distress, they also selflessly shared their treats with them. - December 8, 2011 1:07 PM
Rats show empathy, will come to the aid of other rats
Empathy is the ability to feel others' pain or distress; we feel badly when someone else feels badly. It's what motivates us to give a few dollars to the homeless man on the corner, donate our time to a worthy cause, or hug a friend who has just been dumped. Scientists used to believe that empathy was unique to humans and was one of the traits that actually distinguished us from other species. Recently, however, there is increasing evidence for empathy in several species, most notably other primates.

Now, new research in Science suggests that rats are capable of empathy. The study tested how rats responded when their fellow rats were trapped, and found that they would not only spend time and energy deliberately helping their trapped companions, but they would even share food after liberating them.

By Kate Shaw - December 8, 2011 12:52 PM

Audio: Scientists demonstrate empathy in rats

Chicago researchers say it's time to take another look at the noble rat. They've demonstrated what they call the first clear example in rodents of empathy, a quality previously only observed in primates.

Scientists have known that rodents show a primitive kind of empathy called 'emotional contagion,' meaning a rat near another rat in distress will also feel distress. But the University of Chicago team designed an experiment to see if a rat would actually go out of its way to help a comrade.

GABRIEL SPITZER - December 8, 2011 12:43 PM
Rats Free Trapped Friends, Hint at Universal Empathy
With a few liberating swipes of their paws, a group of research rats freed trapped labmates and raised anew the possibility that empathy isn't unique to humans and a few extra-smart animals, but is widespread in the animal world.

Though more studies are needed on the rats' motivations, it's at least plausible they demonstrated 'empathically motivated pro-social behavior.' People would generally call that helpfulness, or even kindness.

'Rats help other rats in distress. That means it's a biological inheritance,' said neurobiologist Peggy Mason of the University of Chicago. 'That's the biological program we have.'

By Brandon Keim

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