Have you ever looked at your pet and wondered what they’re thinking – or rather, feeling? Whilst being privy to our pets thoughts might be the sci-fi fodder of yesteryear, recent scientific discoveries with mice have led to a deeper understanding of emotions in our rodent friends.
A new study which took place at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Germany, published results of a study in April 2020 that revealed mice to have corresponding facial expressions to their emotions. Much more similar to humans than initially thought, the mice were able to show a range of facial expressions relating to neuropathological reactions correlating with humans. When given a sweet or bitter food the mouse’s face would react in a similar to way to a humans, equally when expressing emotions such as fear and anxiety the mouse’s face would contort consistently with reactions seen with humans.
Researchers at the Institute used a machine to create a readable scale of the relative strength of five emotions. These five emotional states and their corresponding facial expressions were recorded as: pleasure, disgust, nausea, pain and fear. Researchers reported that each emotion was clear and distinguishable in the computer algorithms. The machine was able to spot the nuances of each emotion through its machine learning techniques, making it sensitive to subtle changes in the mouse’s facial movements.
The findings of the study led the researchers to the cells inside the insular cortex of the brain, a spot buried deep inside and with known links to be involved in human emotions also. Analysis in the study showed that the activity of these nerve cells changed dramatically with the distinct emotions, which could then be manipulated to produce specific facial expressions from the mice. Researchers hope such results could lead to further understanding of the neural basis for emotions and lead to insights for illnesses such as anxiety through the studying of the neuro-facial connections.