New research suggests that the gap between man and animals is, once again, narrower than many have thought. In the lab, mice clearly show something that can only be called empathy. Money quote:
It's tempting to explain empathetic behavior in animals that we believe to have only rudimentary cognition, such as mice, by arguing that the sight of a suffering fellow mouse simply evokes an automatic fear reaction. This study undermines that explanation by showing that mice showed empathetic reactions only with cage mates; the mice seem to go far beyond being frightened by injury to accounting for whom the injured party is -- friend, family, foe, stranger. This response is a significant step toward human-like social feeling -- toward caring for acquaintances more than for strangers, just as our empathy for someone who is hurt differs depending on whether the person is a foreigner, a national compatriot, a school chum or an immediate family member.