The effects of acute foot shock stress on empathy levels in rats

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Abstract

Empathy defined as the ability to understand and the share the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another, is an important skill in survival and reproduction. Among many factors that affect empathy include psychological stress, anxiety states. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of acute psychological stress on empathic behavior and its association with oxytocin and vasopressin levels in amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Rats were subjected to 0.2 mA (low) and 1.6 mA (high) intensity of foot shock stress for duration of 20 min. Empathic behavior was found to be improved as a response to low intensity stress, but not to high intensity stress. As a response to lower intensity stress, vasopressin was increased in prefrontal cortex and amygdala; oxytocin was increased in only prefrontal cortex, and corticosterone levels increased in general. Anxiety indicators did not change in low intensity stress group yet; high intensity stress group demonstrated a lesser degree of anxiety response. High intensity stress group stayed unexpectedly more active in middle area of elevated plus maze test equipment, which may support impaired executive decision making abilities in the setting of high anxiety states. Further research is needed to investigate gender effects, the role of dopaminergic system and other stress related pathways in acute stress.

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