July 05, 2006

Mice Care - they really do

Empathy is the ability to respond to other creatures feeling. Things like pity when we see a half drowned kitten in the rain (or mirth if you're a sadistic bastard). Apparently scientists use yawning to detect it humans and other primates.

The Scientist tells me that Canadian Researchers have shown that rodents might show it too. They feel more pain when a mouse "friend" of theirs has "explained" the process to them before. Think of it as how much more exciting a rollercoaster is if your friends hype it up for you (but not too much).

How did they do it? They tortured mice (injected acetic acid ... causing them to writhe in pain) and then put the victims with a totally innocent mouse of the same sex. They let them acclimitize to each other (hence the "friend") and then repeated the procedure on both mice. Mice with a torture-veteran were more likely to writhe longer than totally naive mice. Somehow the idea that this was not going to be a fun ride had been transmitted to the other mouse. Mice obviously haven't developed this communication skill to the extent humans have - they don't give away the plotlines to amazing blockbusters like X-Men III. Maybe they use sophisticated wit like " Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn have killed off any chance of another good X-Men sequel".

What does this mean? Well it means that a cornerstone of culture, awareness of feelings in others - and their direct relation to our own - is not a unique feature. Either its an ancesterally old memetic concept in early (or pre-)mammalian culture - or a commonly developing cultural trait in mammals, and possibly non-mammals. Animals are noticebly more human the more we study them.

What does it mean in the real world? Maybe we can scare shitless some pest animal species - such as possums in New Zealand and then let them loose; where they'll spread widespread shock and awe amongst their kin, increasing the effectiveness of our supression of the beasts. At least until they develop marsupial suicide bombers...

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