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  • gumbojill
    Jul 2, 2006
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      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?
      xml=/news/2006/06/29/umice.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/06/29/ixnews.html

      Mice can feel empathy, say scientists

      (Filed: 29/06/2006)

      Empathy, the quintessentially human ability to sense another's pain,
      has
      been detected in mice.

      Scientists found that mice were more sensitive to pain when they could
      see other animals suffering at the same time.

      The findings show for the first time that "emotional contagion" -
      empathy, albeit in a very rudimentary form - can even connect animals
      as
      low on the evolutionary scale as mice.

      For centuries empathy has been seen as a noble human attribute, and
      one
      of the clearest ways of distinguishing us from animals.

      Experts still disagree on whether chimpanzees, let alone mice, are
      capable of empathy.

      The new study, conducted by Professor Jeffrey Mogil and colleagues at
      McGill University in Montreal, Canada, involved a series of
      experiments
      in which pain was inflicted on laboratory mice.

      In one, mice were injected in the belly with a weak acid solution.

      Mice react to the injection by stretching repeatedly and extending
      their
      back legs.

      The research showed that when two mice were placed together in a
      Plexiglas cylinder, they spent more time writhing than when they were
      injected alone.

      This only happened, however, when the mice were cagemates who had
      lived
      together for at least a week.

      A similar result occurred with mice injected with formalin in one paw.
      The animals appeared to react to their cagemates in the time they
      spent
      licking the painful area.

      In the most significant experiment, scientists recorded the time it
      took
      for a mouse to lift its paw from a hot spot on the floor of the test
      cylinder.

      Mice withdrew their paws more quickly when at the same time they
      observed a cagemate in pain from an acid injection.

      It was clear in this case that the mice were not simply imitating what
      other mice were doing.

      "These data suggest that the pain system is sensitised in a general
      manner by the observation of pain in a familiar," the researchers
      reported in the journal Science.

      Animal welfare campaigners might disapprove of the research. But the
      scientists point out that as well as shedding new light on the
      behaviour
      of animals, it could be relevant to understanding human pain.

      Prof Mogil said: "Since we know that social interaction plays an
      important role in chronic pain behaviour in humans, then the mechanism
      underlying such effects can now be elucidated; why are we so affected
      by
      those around us?"

      Dr Tania Singer, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of
      Zurich
      in Switzerland, questioned whether the mice really displayed empathy
      in
      the human sense.

      She told Science: "Philosophers would argue you can only have empathy
      if
      you have consciousness.

      "Psychologists would want to see evidence of altruistic behaviour and
      altruistic motivation."

      Dr Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago, used
      the
      term "emotional contagion" - a primitive kind of empathy that does not
      require understanding of what others are experiencing.

      "Emotional contagion means one baby starts crying and all the babies
      start crying," she said. "The second baby doesn't have to realise that
      the first baby is upset because it has a dirty diaper."