Can Mice Feel Empathy?

Let’s be honest. Mice are not one of the affable creatures in the animal kingdom. Even Mickey Mouse’s resounding success has done nothing for their public perception.

What if we told you that these filth-ridden critters were capable of empathy? You’d tell us we’re talking crazy, and to stick to rodent removal services, not Rodent Psychology 101.

But it’s true: studies have shown mice are in tune with the distress of others.

Is it Ethical?

Researchers injected subject mice with acetic acid in a same-sex adult pair, causing them to writhe in pain while observing each other. Afflicted mice writhed more if their partners were also writhing, provided they had bunked together for 14 days. Injected mice experienced increased pain when cage-mates were inflicted with another painful stimulus‚ heat, proving mice experience a general increased sensitivity to pain, and aren’t imitating what they see.

For the record, you’re not alone in your concern with this experiment. Ostensibly torturing mice to illicit signs of empathy from other mice troubled much of the scientific community. Still, it yielded some curious results.

Emotionally Contagious

Everyone has experienced yawning because the person next to them yawned. It’s an emotional contagion, commonly shown in higher primates, evolving into more complex behaviours like being driven to aid a friend in distress. These contagions are responsible for the mice’s reaction.

Another Weapon in the Mice Communication Arsenal

Mice’s senses rely heavily on ultrasonic vocalizations and smell. Researchers were able to discern that the mice likely used their visual sensory to detect their cage-mate’s pain.

Mice are highly complex and intelligent. Given the combination of filth, disease, speed, and propensity to cause damage, the thought of mice gallivanting freely around your home should make you quiver.

You’re right to be creeped out by these minuscule menaces, communicating through ultrasonic vocalizations, sensing one another’s feelings like some kind of plague-infested Jedi. Who knows what else they’re capable of?

While mice don’t deserve to be tortured in the name of science, we still can’t have them spreading their filth and disease in our living spaces.

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