Mechanism of vicarious fear

This project aims at investigating the mechanisms underlying vicarious fear in rats. It has been shown that rats can learn from social interactions, however the mechanisms underlying this form of learning are poorly understood. In this project we are focusing on social transmission of fear. In collaboration with Dr. Christian Keysers, we have developed a paradigm for studying vicarious fear in rats. We have found that a rat will show vicarious fear when observing a con-specific being shocked, provided that it has had prior experience with shock. This finding suggests that vicarious freezing in rats is empathic in nature. Furthermore, we found that the rat being shocked will freeze more in the presence of an experienced observer than in the presence of a naïve one and that the amount of freezing is correlated with the number of alarm calls emitted by the two rats.

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