New and noted from PLOS

I came across this when looking for a report about empathy in mice:

Scenes from the life of a lab rat

Scenes from the life of a lab rat

The mouse empathy story turns out to be of rather more lasting interest. I had been going to use it as an example of sloppy journalism: the Telegraph report says Good Samaritans are born not raised, suggests a new study from the United States that has identified an “empathy gene”. and I couldn’t see any mention of a particular gene in the text at all. Neither does the article link to the source in PLOS.1

But they have identified a particular mouse gene which affects behaviour which looks emphatic. In particular, mice with one variant behave as if something that they have seen happening to other mice might happen to them under the same circumstances. This is a way to understand empathy as a learning mechanism, though perhaps “understand” is the wrong word. It’s certainly a way to analyse it, and to see that sensitivity to the sufferings of others has a payoff to the sensitive; and the authors, with their talk about a reward mechanism, are pretty explicit about the ways in which emotions can be understood as strategies.

1 an interesting small example of the way in which newspapers are now edited to be read by Google, not humans: a human might want to look at the original research, but all the paper wants from Google is self-links

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