Laboratory rodents can adopt the pain or fear of nearby conspecifics. This phenotype conceptually lies within the domain of empathy, a bio-psycho-social process through which individuals come to share each other's emotion. Using a model of cue-conditioned fear, we show here that the expression of vicarious fear varies with respect to whether mice are raised socially or in solitude during adolescence. The impact of the adolescent housing environment was selective: (a) vicarious fear was more influenced than directly acquired fear, (b) "long-term" (24-h postconditioning) vicarious fear memories were stronger than "short-term" (15-min postconditioning) memories in socially reared mice whereas the opposite was true for isolate mice, and (c) females were more fearful than males. Housing differences during adolescence did not alter the general mobility of mice or their vocal response to receiving the unconditioned stimulus. Previous work with this mouse model underscored a genetic influence on vicarious fear learning, and the present study complements these findings by elucidating an interaction between the adolescent social environment and vicarious experience. Collectively, these findings are relevant to developing models of empathy amenable to mechanistic exploitation in the laboratory.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Behavioral Neuroscience