Socially-mediated arousal and contagion within domestic chick broods

Edgar, J L and Nicol, C J (2018) Socially-mediated arousal and contagion within domestic chick broods. Scientific Reports (Nature), 8. p. 10509.

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Abstract

Emotional contagion – an underpinning valenced feature of empathy – is made up of simpler, potentially dissociable social processes which can include socially-mediated arousal and behavioural/physiological contagion. Previous studies of emotional contagion have often conflated these processes rather than examining their independent contribution to empathic response. We measured socially-mediated arousal and contagion in 9-week old domestic chicks (n = 19 broods), who were unrelated but raised together from hatching. Pairs of observer chicks were exposed to two conditions in a counterbalanced order: air puff to conspecifics (AP) (during which an air puff was applied to three conspecifics at 30 s intervals) and control with noise of air puff (C) (during which the air puff was directed away from the apparatus at 30 s intervals). Behaviour and surface eye temperature of subjects and observers were measured throughout a 10-min pre-treatment and 10-min treatment period. Subjects and observers responded to AP with increased freezing, and reduced preening and ground pecking. Subjects and observers also showed reduced surface eye temperature - indicative of stress-induced hyperthermia. Subject-Observer behaviour was highly correlated within broods during both C and AP conditions, but with higher overall synchrony during AP. We demonstrate the co-occurrence of socially-mediated behavioural and physiological arousal and contagion; component features of emotional contagion.

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