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Science AMA series: Consoling behavior in rodents! I’m James Burkett, and I published a recent paper in Science showing empathy-based consolation in the prairie vole. Ask me anything about empathy and
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Hi, I’m James Burkett, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. I worked under Larry Young and Frans de Waal on research that was just published in Science, showing for the first time that consoling behavior is not limited to large-brained animals with complex cognition. Consoling responses can be observed in the laboratory in rodents, specifically in the highly social prairie vole. In this paper, we proved that prairie voles console other voles in distress, and that they are motivated to do this by empathy for the distressed vole. We also showed that the brain mechanisms that support this consoling response in the vole are the same that are involved in empathy in humans. This is the strongest evidence yet that the fundamental building blocks of empathy are conserved in evolution between rodents and humans. In psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, psychopathy, Huntington’s disease and more, there are deficiencies in detecting and responding to the emotions of others. Yet, there are no medical treatments for any of these deficiencies. This is primarily because we have only basic information about how empathy works in the brain, due in large part to a lack of animal research on the topic. It is our strong hope that this research will lead to advances in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Here is the original article at Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6271/375 Here is an excellent article about it in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/01/consoling-voles-reignite-debate-about-animal-empathy/425034/ Here is a cute animated interview about the article between Larry Young and a 4-year-old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGgWZai5IMQ AMA! I’ll be back at 1 pm et (10 am PT, 6 pm UTC) to answer your questions, ask me anything! Edit: Hi everyone! I’m back from lunch seminar and ready to answer all your questions! Let’s get to it! Edit 2: Wow, this has been great!! I’m taking a break for dinner, but I swear I’ll be back later tonight to answer more questions.