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Do Animals Feel Empathy? Essay

974 words - 4 pages

The term empathy refers to the ability to recognize and understand another individual’s emotions. The term is generally attributed to pro-social behaviour in humans. However, the question arises as to whether it’s only humans that are capable of sharing this understanding among one another, or whether other organisms are also able to empathize with each other. Empathy can be expressed in many difference ways, ranging from something as simple as yawning to having a better cognitive and behavioural understanding of another individual's behaviour. It is still unclear whether animals do indeed experience emotional empathy, however in studies conducted by Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal et al; Empathy and prosocial behaviour in rats , Andeson et al; Contagious yawning in chimpanzees, and Edgar et al; emotional empathy in chickens, the trait was among various organisms. By determining whether animals do feel these emotions, certain implications can be made about the welfare of these animal, and how they are treated.

Rats are one of the most common animals used in labs, so it would seem right to first explore whether they express empathetic behaviour. In a study conducted by Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal et al, rats were subject to various conditions in which observations were made as to whether rats expressed pro social behaviour or not. The experiment consisted of placing a pair rats in a large cage, with one of the ‘cagemates’ being placed in an isolated restrainer. This situation continued for 12 days, with the results showing that it took an average of 6.9±2.9 days for the rats to break the cagemate out (Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal. 2011). Control conditions included having a rat with an empty restrainer, as well as having two rats, with neither being in the restrainer. It was shown the rats in the non control condition had more activity, it was also seen that with consecutive trials the rats started to decrease the amount of time it took to break the cagemate out. The rats were also tested in conditions where the restrainer was empty vs not empty, along with having the restrainer filled with chocolate or a cagemate. In most cases it was observed that the rats were likely to free their cagemates, which may be attributed to empathic behaviour . Due to the study being conducted with untrained rats without a social incentive, the results can be applied to more general terms, as the author states “..the most parsimonious interpretation of the observed helping behavior is that rats free their cagemate in order to end distress, either their own or that of the trapped rat..” supporting the concept of empathy being felt by other organisms.

Yawning, is a sign of empathy, the areas of the brain that stimulate empathy are found to be the same ones that stimulate yawning. The precuneus and posterior temporal gyrus are responsible for both empathy as well as contagious yawning. In a study conducted by...

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