Do animals feel empathy? Inside the decades-long quest for an answer

Yes, even rats have feelings. Here’s how we know.


Throughout her career as a neurobiologist, Peggy Mason has been told over and over that the rats she experiments on are not capable of empathy. Only humans and other primates can understand the emotions of another. Most other animals can’t. And certainly not beady-eyed rats….


The study, published in Science in 2011, was a breakthrough. If rats were capable of basic forms of empathy, then perhaps empathy was common — or even universal — among mammals. Studying animal empathy could give us insight into how human empathy evolved. (“I consider myself just a fancy rat,” Mason told me.)


by Brian Resnick