We are all familiar with the feeling of empathy. We feel sad when our friends and family are sad, and we share their happiness when they are happy. But is empathy a trait unique to humans?
Empathy in animals and humans, as defined by the scientists who study it, “refers to situations in which the subject has a similar emotional state to an object as a result of the perception of the object’s situation or predicament… and the emotional state remains object-focused rather than self-focused.” In other words, one animal recognizes another’s state of mind, and not only mirrors that state, but remains focused on the other individual and may even try to act in a helpful manner.
So, how do we use science to learn about empathy in animals?
A closer look at studies in elephants, rats, and ravens will help us to understand how empathy may have been used by other species long before humans had even given it a name.