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Curr Biol. 2015 Feb 2;25(3):326-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.028. Epub 2015 Jan 15.

Reducing social stress elicits emotional contagion of pain in mouse and human strangers.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC H3A 1B1, Canada.
  • 2Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC H3A 1B1, Canada; Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203, USA.
  • 3Department of Biological Sciences, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94304, USA.
  • 4Department of Psychology, Haverford College, Haverford, PA 19041, USA.
  • 5Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC H3A 1B1, Canada; Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, QC H3A 0G1, Canada. Electronic address: jeffrey.mogil@mcgill.ca.

Abstract

Empathy for another's physical pain has been demonstrated in humans [1] and mice [2]; in both species, empathy is stronger between familiars. Stress levels in stranger dyads are higher than in cagemate dyads or isolated mice [2, 3], suggesting that stress might be responsible for the absence of empathy for the pain of strangers. We show here that blockade of glucocorticoid synthesis or receptors for adrenal stress hormones elicits the expression of emotional contagion (a form of empathy) in strangers of both species. Mice and undergraduates were tested for sensitivity to noxious stimulation alone and/or together (dyads). In familiar, but not stranger, pairs, dyadic testing was associated with increased pain behaviors or ratings compared to isolated testing. Pharmacological blockade of glucocorticoid synthesis or glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptors enabled the expression of emotional contagion of pain in mouse and human stranger dyads, as did a shared gaming experience (the video game Rock Band) in human strangers. Our results demonstrate that emotional contagion is prevented, in an evolutionarily conserved manner, by the stress of a social interaction with an unfamiliar conspecific and can be evoked by blocking the endocrine stress response.

Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

PMID:
25601547
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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