Social modulation of pain as evidence for empathy in mice

Science. 2006 Jun 30;312(5782):1967-70. doi: 10.1126/science.1128322.


Empathy is thought to be unique to higher primates, possibly to humans alone. We report the modulation of pain sensitivity in mice produced solely by exposure to their cagemates, but not to strangers, in pain. Mice tested in dyads and given an identical noxious stimulus displayed increased pain behaviors with statistically greater co-occurrence, effects dependent on visual observation. When familiar mice were given noxious stimuli of different intensities, their pain behavior was influenced by their neighbor's status bidirectionally. Finally, observation of a cagemate in pain altered pain sensitivity of an entirely different modality, suggesting that nociceptive mechanisms in general are sensitized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Cues
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Formaldehyde / administration & dosage
  • Hot Temperature
  • Male
  • Mice / psychology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Social Behavior*


  • Formaldehyde