PublicationsSharing Positive Affective States Amongst Rodents
Group living is thought to benefit from the ability to empathize with others. Much attention has been paid to empathy for the pain of others as an inhibitor of aggression. Empathizing with the positive affect of others has received less attention although it could promote helping by making it vicariously rewarding. Here, we review this latter, nascent literature to show that three components of the ability to empathize with positive emotions are already present in rodents, namely, the ability to perceive, share, and prefer actions that promote positive emotional states of conspecifics. While it has often been argued that empathy evolved as a motivation to care for others, we argue that these tendencies may have selfish benefits that could have stabilized their evolution: approaching others in a positive state can provide information about the source of valuable resources; becoming calmer and optimistic around animals in a calm or positive mood can help adapt to the socially sensed safety level in the environment; and preferring actions also benefiting others can optimize foraging, reduce aggression, and trigger reciprocity. Together, these findings illustrate an emerging field shedding light on the emotional world of rodents and on the biology and evolution of our ability to cooperate in groups.