Monday, December 10, 2012

a new model of empathy?

WaPo | At the very least, the new experiment reported in Science is going to make people think differently about what it means to be a “rat.” Eventually, though, it may tell us interesting things about what it means to be a human being.

In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.

The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

The researchers came to the unavoidable conclusion that what they were seeing was empathy — and apparently selfless behavior driven by that mental state.

“There is nothing in it for them except for whatever feeling they get from helping another individual,” said Peggy Mason, the neurobiologist who conducted the experiment along with graduate student Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal and fellow researcher Jean Decety.

“There is a common misconception that sharing and helping is a cultural occurrence. But this is not a cultural event. It is part of our biological inheritance,” she added.

The idea that animals have emotional lives and are capable of detecting emotions in others has been gaining ground for decades. Empathic behavior has been observed in apes and monkeys, and described by many pet owners (especially dog owners). Recently, scientists demonstrated “emotional contagion” in mice, a situation in which one animal’s stress worsens another’s.

But empathy that leads to helping activity — what psychologists term “pro-social behavior” — hasn’t been formally shown in non-primates until now.

If this experiment reported Thursday holds up under scrutiny, it will give neuroscientists a method to study empathy and altruism in a rigorous way.


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Constructive_Feedback said...

Brother CNu:

What happens when the "Empathetic Rat" is presently "The Jailer", per the popular elections that he won over time.
Then he RELEASES the "Least Of These Rat" into an ecosystem that affiliated "Empathetic Rats" now control. After several days of freedom the "Least Of These" rat now sees that his skill set is not flush with the new requirements that he forage for food, shelter and productive work - key attributes that were not put upon him during his imprisoned state.

He then is seen cursing the "Empathetic Rat", breaking into his house so that he might be re-caged, and thus resuming his receipt of basic social justice services otherwise known as "3 hots and a cot".


CNu said...

lol, I would run that through Google translate Bro. Feed, but they ain't have a Constructive Feedback -> English option.

really dough..., The prison industrial which has been powered by the drug war is not run by empathetic anything, nor will it be. Since the prison-industrial is a make-work gambit for low skill/no skill "workers" minding still less socially acceptable low skill/no skill "workers" - it seems to me that the annual cuts brought about by sequestration will soon put a great many folks to the 3 hots and a cot foraging test - don't you think?