Behavior

Empathy is for the birds

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1328-1329
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6266.1328-c

Monogamous zebra finches empathize through song

PHOTO: KICHIGIN/ISTOCK PHOTO

Many species empathize with one other by state matching, a process whereby an individual shifts its physiological state to match another's. Increasing evidence suggests that empathy occurs across mammals, but whether other vertebrates empathize is unclear. Birds are prime candidates for state matching, given their extensive parental care, pair bonding, and sociality. Perez et al. now show that in highly monogamous zebra finches, females match their state of stress (as measured by glucocorticoids) to that of their male mate, as perceived only through changes in his call. No match appeared when females listened to the calls of unknown males, which suggests that the close bond facilitates empathy.

Horm. Behav. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.09.002 (2015).

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