Tag Archive | "empathy"

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Consolation, Trust and Empathy in Animals

Posted on 23 April 2016 by Jerry

Recent research points to shared capabilities among all mammals for consolation, trust, and empathy. It appears from the various studies that animals from prairie voles, highly monogamous zebra finches that mimic the stress state of their partner, and chimps all make friends, trust, and empathize with others.

A research study reviewed in the Science magazine, January 22, 2016 issue showed that prairie voles (rodents) exhibit a consoling response when other voles (cage-mates) in their environment are showing stress. An abstract of the study said “Consolation behavior toward distressed others is common in humans and great apes, yet our ability to explore the biological mechanisms underlying this behavior is limited by its apparent absence in laboratory animals.” This study was conducted using laboratory animals.

The study goes on to observe that the prairie vole, “greatly increases partner-directed grooming toward familiar conspecifics (but not strangers) that have experienced an unobserved stressor, provide social buffering. Prairie voles also match the fear response, anxiety-related behaviors, and corticosterone increase of the stressed cage-mate, suggesting an empathy mechanism.”

Frans De Waal, PhD was a co-author of this study that was conducted at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He said, “Scientists have been reluctant to attribute empathy to animals, often assuming selfish motives. These explanations have never worked well for consolation behavior, however, which is why this study is so important.” Consolation behavior in the voles is when one animal experiences a calming contact with a distressed colleague.

Chimpanzees base their friendships on trust of a familiar animal. The Max Planck Institute conducted this study at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. It found that opposed to common wisdom, the Chimpanzee environment is not filled with aggression, conflict, competition and dominance.

Chimpanzees are given a choice of using a friendship or “trust rope” or a “no-trust rope” to access food. An article appearing in the January 15, 2016 Christian Science Monitor described the research by stating “The no-trust rope yields immediate access to food that the chimp doesn’t particularly like. But if the chimp pulls the trust rope, a box of high quality food – chimpanzee favorites like apple and bananas – moves to its partner. The partner eats half, but is then faced with a decision.

The article continues by stating “A ‘trustworthy’ chimp will send the other half of the food back to its partner, while an ‘untrustworthy’ chimp will keep the food for itself.” Chimps “were significantly more likely to share with friends. So friendship, like many supposedly human concepts, may be deeply rooted in evolutionary history. Individuals with friends live longer, have more children and [have] lower stress-levels.”

Yet another research effort looked at Zebra finches who mate for life and consequently have a very close partnership with with their mate. Research shows they enjoy a great sympathy between each other. For example, the research as reported in the December 11, 2015 issue of Science magazine showed that a female, only exposed to stress in the birdcall of her mate, would shift her physiological state to match her partner’s level of stress.

At the same time research into the human brain shows consistency in the physical reaction to a highly altruistic act. Research shows that empathy-based altruism is characterized by a connection from the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to the anterior insula (AI) that also invokes connectivity to the ventral striatum. This format in the brain always represents altruistic behavior.

The innate quality of caring for one another appears to cross all higher organisms from mammals to rodents to birds. Empathy and sympathy appear to be universal and something ingrained or genetic within everything. We need to realize this is an aspect of human beings that we need to accentuate. We should use these higher impulses as the standard to endorse a human being as having value. These are the impulses we should look for and reward in our leaders and ourselves.

Use the following links to gain additional information or access the original research that was used to write this article.

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6271/375

http://esciencenews.com/articles/2016/01/21/discovery.consoling.behavior.prairie.voles.may.benefit.autism.research

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/350/6266/1371

https://www.mpg.de/9829733/chimpanzees-friendship-trust

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0115/Chimps-form-friendships-based-on-trust-The-banana-sharing-test

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/humans-chimpanzees-trust-their-friends

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-chimpanzees-trust-friends-20160114-story.html

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/2016/01/05/female-finches-get-stressed-just-hearing-voice-stressed-mate/#.VxKaehHSalU

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3388787/Birds-suffer-marital-strife-Female-zebra-finches-worked-hear-calls-stressed-mate.html

 

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Ongoing Battle For Sentient Animals

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Jerry

Researchers have identified a group of animals that have greater intellectual and emotional faculties, for example human beings, elephants, porpoises, great apes, and a family of birds known as Corvids.  (See Beyond Animal, Ego and Time Chapter 6, Human Uniqueness).  Society tries to protect human beings while some animal activists try to protect these other species, more lately the great apes.

After considerable progress, activists are pleased they’ve all but stopped experimentation on great apes in the U.S.   Recall the National Institute of Health (NIH) ended the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories.  It has retired the majority of its 360 chimps used in medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all wild and domesticated chimpanzees subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.  Although skirmishes continue in the U.S. the public pressure remains.

The situation in the European Union (EU) is marked by continuing controversy.  The EU issued a directive regarding medical research using non-human primates like chimpanzees.  While the 2010 EU directive was thought to give balance to the issues of minimum animal welfare, intensity of pain to be inflicted and ended most research involving great apes, it contained a provision that explicitly allowed ongoing research with great apes.  It said that research could continue if researchers could not use any other species of animal.

Activists perceived this was somewhat of a loss with EU governance groups and have now redirected their efforts to the local political level.  The EU directive required member states to enact these rules by the start of 2013.  It also said these states could not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by making the state’s law stricter than the EU directive.  Activists have delayed adoption of the directive in several states and are getting cities and municipalities to pass new restrictive laws and regulations to defeat the spirit of the directive at the local level.

In addition there is a petition that began to be circulated in the EU in November of 2012 that already has over a million signatures.  These signatures are being validated.  If they prove genuine, the European Commission and Parliament must hold hearings.   This would lead to another round of open and public debate on the issues.

Now another frontier has been opened up in the saga to protect chimps and great apes in the U.S.   A group called the Non Human Rights Project has filed court suits looking to free four chimps from their captivity.  The intent is to acquire “legal personhood” for these animals.  While New York lower courts denied the suits, they are collectively on appeal.

An article entitled Lawsuits Seek ‘Personhood’ for Chimpanzees in the December 2013 issue of Science magazine identifies Boston attorney, Steven Wise, as one of the people leading the charge.   “In 1993, Wise attempted to sue on behalf of a dolphin that had been transferred to a Navy facility, but the judge ruled that, as nonpersons, animals don’t have the legal “standing” to sue.  (More recently, a federal judge dismissed a 2011 lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when it tried to argue that Sea World had violated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by keeping orcas as “slaves.”).”

It is doubtful American courts will grant ‘personhood’ to nonhuman primates anytime soon.  These efforts however, maintain the pressure on society to recognize there are species of animals that are much closer and have similar cognitive and emotional capabilities to humans.  This should lead to greater adoption of laws and regulations that at least create new categories of rules to take their awareness into account.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents used to prepare this posting.

http://www.nature.com/news/biomedicine-the-changing-face-of-primate-research-1.14645

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6163/1154.summary?sid=3efaff36-1beb-48fc-b483-465cc7f49507

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/chimpanzee-personhood-nonhuman-right/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-do-nonhuman-mammals-fit-in-our-moral-hierarchy/

http://science.time.com/2013/12/10/courts-say-chimps-arent-people/

 

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Empathy, Compassion and Hope at Work

Posted on 15 November 2013 by Jerry

We are jaded about reports of scores of people hurt in this or that shooting rampage.  In cases where a bad situation is averted, we either never hear about it or we don’t get enough information to know what happened.  A viral 911 tape, see first link below, drew our attention to Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who talked a man out of using his assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammo in a grammar school.  Her story and the tape are a perfect example of the power of empathy, compassion and hope.

She displayed great empathy when she established a one-to-one relationship with the potential shooter.  She displayed compassion when she described for him her own life and how she survived periods of personal darkness to come back into the light.  She demonstrated hope when she assured him there was a way out of this situation for him.  Not only was she capable of seeing the similarity of her past personal challenges and the situation the gunman was facing but she was also able to elicit her same feelings in the man she persuaded to give himself up.

That the rampage was avoided, that the bookkeeper talked her way out of a bad situation are not the lessons we should take from this incident.  Empathy, compassion and hope are all emotions that are informed by intellect.  Recognition of the shared circumstance of the lives of two living creatures is what creates these emotions.  They represent the possession of self-recognition and the projection of one’s own feelings onto another, putting oneself in the other’s shoes so to speak.

These higher emotions are a product of the evolution of self-aware life forms.  They are largely learned emotions however. Everyone feels the most basic animal emotions of fear, anger, aggression, etc.  The higher emotions like empathy, sympathy and compassion or predictive emotions about future outcomes such as hope or despair all are developed. Unfortunately too few of us practice feeling these emotions or teach our children and others to feel them.

When you listen to Antoinette Tuff what you hear is her movement from fear to compassion for another human being who is in pain and afraid he has taken the situation too far.  You can hear Antoinette’s dawning empathy as you listen to the tape.  Be patient with the long silences. Hers is not a feigned emotion but a real understanding of what the other person is feeling.   This is what makes the tape so exceptional.

If more of us were aware of our higher emotions and used them more frequently the world would be a better place.  Unfortunately we seek the exhilaration of our most base emotions when we watch movies, when we should be preselecting movies that will help us develop higher emotions such as empathy, compassion, sympathy, hope and optimism.  The same is true for what we should be teaching our children.

We also need to be more conscious of to what we expose ourselves and our children.  The news channels are always reporting the negative events in excruciating detail with far less attention to stories that promote the best in all of us.  We need to change our consumption patterns and be active consumers of all that is good in human kind.

Chapter 7, An Evolutionary Imperative in the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time discusses the evolution of higher emotions and their dependency on self-awareness.  See pages 69 through 75.  Go to http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/ .

Use the following links to obtain more information or access source documents for the article:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/08/22/antoinette_tuff_911_call_listen_to_the_full_tape_of_ga_school_clerks_call.html

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/the_story_the_right_hates_antoinette_tuffs_courage/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean_meshorer/tragedy-stopped-by-uncond_b_3795865.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1336.summary?sid=6dbc41b2-5bfb-4125-878c-7c7a8dc8f5d6

http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/

 

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Empathy’s Possible Source and Observations

Posted on 20 February 2013 by Jerry

Researchers continue the exploration of the von Economo neuron and its connection to higher states of self awareness and consciousness.  At one time these neurons were thought to be exclusive to the part of the brain where empathy and self awareness reside in large brained animals; people, great apes, Asian elephants, whales and bottlenose dolphins.  These animals have shown self awareness in the mirror and mark tests.

Von Economo neurons have recently been found in macaques, a type of Old World monkey, and zebras.  This result coincides with the third incident seen recently where a giraffe mother refuses to leave the body of her dead calf.  Another giraffe mother spent more than two hours splaying her legs and licking her recently born but dead calf.  Of interest is the isolation of these mothers at these times for they are normally with other females rather than by themselves.  

This type of demonstration, known as nurturance care-giving behavior, is very similar to that seen in self aware animals such as chimpanzees and elephants.  It raises the question of whether zebras have an understanding of the circumstance of death.  Further supporting their uniqueness, other recent research shows that when von Economo neurons die off, in a rare form of dementia, people can no longer relate to others.

Beyond bottlenose dolphins, common long-beaked dolphins have recently been observed in a group showing great empathy as they try to help a dying member of their pod.  The research contains dramatic photos of a dolphin designated as EC08001, being assisted by five of its companions who attempted to support its body so it could breath and not sink in death to the bottom of the ocean. 

The research contains a photo with an explanation stating “Five long-beaked common dolphins are supporting EC08001 by assuming a raft-like formation with their bodies.  One animal, positioned in the center of the formation, rolled over on it back (belly up).”  In another picture, “A long-beaked companion dolphin tips the head of EC08001 upwards to help it breathe.”  A final picture is of “The carcass of EC08001 is floating vertically and exhibiting rigor mortis.  The helper dolphins continue to try to stimulate the dolphin by nudging its head and body.”

These instances of common long-beaked dolphins and zebras should add to the human realization that more of their fellow animals often are capable of the depth of understanding and emotion to which human beings are subject.  This serves as a sober lesson for us who have seen the film “The Cove” which documents the routine killing of dolphins by Japanese fishermen in a small cove located near their home town.  We begin to understand the full fear, pain and sadness experienced by our fellow creatures.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/340572/description/rare_neurons_found_in_monkeys_brains

http://www.cell.com/neuron/ (search for “Von Economo Neurons in the Anterior Insula of the Macque” and select Summary)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19317067

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mms.12012/full

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/21146455

http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/the-cove/

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Altruism – Empathy Likely Biologically Universal

Posted on 31 January 2012 by Jerry

There have been countless scientific articles written documenting experiments which show all manner of empathy, altruism, and cooperation between higher mammals and especially those with highly developed prefrontal cortices.  This behavior has been repeatedly identified in human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, bottlenose dolphins, and elephants.  More broadly it has also been seen in the behavior of the more developed mammals.

But what about the lowly, lesser forms of animals, are they indifferent to each other?  Are they nothing but dumb brutes competing with peers for survival with no sensitivity to each other’s plight?  Researchers Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago conducted a series of experiments that indicate that even with rats there is empathy and reaction to each other’s distress.  Their experiments led them to conclude there was strong evidence for “biological roots of empathically motivated helping behavior”.

When there was a free rat in an arena with another rat that was confined by a restrainer, the “free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open the restrainer and free the cagemate.”  The free rat performed this release even when social contact between the animals was prevented and when an alternative access to chocolate was offered as a distraction to freeing the confined animal.  In the case of the chocolate within a different restrainer, the free rat “opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time: The Human Odyssey, Chapter 6 – Human Uniqueness, the book quotes and affirms Charles Darwin who said, “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not kind.”  This set of experiments indicates we should expand Darwin’s observation to include the lesser animals as well.

Use the following link to access the study results in Science Magazine:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6061/1427.abstract

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