Rat behavior and dopamine release are modulated by conspecific distress

Elife. 2018 Nov 28:7:e38090. doi: 10.7554/eLife.38090.


Rats exhibit 'empathy' making them a model to understand the neural underpinnings of such behavior. We show data consistent with these findings, but also that behavior and dopamine (DA) release reflects subjective rather than objective evaluation of appetitive and aversive events that occur to another. We recorded DA release in two paradigms: one that involved cues predictive of unavoidable shock to the conspecific and another that allowed the rat to refrain from reward when there were harmful consequences to the conspecific. Behavior and DA reflected pro-social interactions in that DA suppression was reduced during cues that predicted shock in the presence of the conspecific and that DA release observed on self-avoidance trials was present when the conspecific was spared. However, DA also increased when the conspecific was shocked instead of the recording rat and DA release during conspecific avoidance trials was lower than when the rat avoided shock for itself.

Keywords: accumbens; dopamine; empathy; neuroscience; rat; reward; social; striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Electroshock
  • Male
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior*


  • Dopamine