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Mice Will Approach Another Mouse in Pain, But Only When He’s Top Mouse

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Mice, like us, are social animals. As social animals they like to hang out with each other. Also like us, they don’t just hang out with anyone. Who a mouse chooses to hang out with will depend on number of factors, such as how old the other mouse is, what it’s social status is and what environment they are in.

In mice as in humans, the first step to forming a social bond with someone is approaching them. However, mice don’t just approach any old mouse when wanting to make a new ‘friend’.

One thing that can make one mouse approach another mouse to begin with is if that other mouse appears to be in distress. One study found that female mice were more likely to approach another familiar female mouse if that mouse was in pain (but this wasn’t found in male mice). People have suggested that perhaps the mouse is just ‘curious’ or perhaps even wants to rescue the other mouse from whatever is causing the distress.

However, other studies have found that mice will avoid cage mates that seem to be in pain. This makes sense as their distress could signal danger or disease, and generally speaking it’s best to look out for your own survival first.

A recent study looked to see whether the social status of the mouse in pain might affect a cagemate’s tendency to approach it. Using male mice, the researchers found that when a subordinate mouse was in a cage with a dominant and mid-status mouse, that mouse was equally likely to hang out with either mouse. However, if the dominant mouse was in pain, he was more likely to approach this mouse than the other one. However, when a dominant mouse was housed with subordinate and mid-status cagemates, he spent equal time with both of them, even when the subordinate one was in pain.

Why might mice only approach a dominant mouse that seems to be in pain? The researchers suggest that it could be that when a mouse becomes sick it disrupts the social hierarchy, so they are no longer perceived as dominant. The previously subordinate mouse might then no longer be ‘intimidated’ by it, or at least be willing to check out what’s going on in case there’s the chance that it may now become the top mouse.


Photo Credits

First mouse: Davide Santoni

Mice: Alois Staudacher



Watanabe, S. (2014). The dominant/subordinate relationship between mice modifies the approach behavior toward a cage mate experiencing pain.Behavioural processes103, 1-4.


Felicity Muth About the Author: Felicity Muth is an early-career researcher with a PhD in animal cognition. Follow on Twitter @notbadscience.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tuned 9:45 am 03/13/2014

    They carry a pillow, but not for comfort.

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  2. 2. yassin 9:51 pm 03/13/2014

    as we know animals does communicate with each other so when 1 talk the other listen so i guess u can say they sharin feeling too…so this shows that not only human being has the mercy side its also the animal when the undominat mouse basicly chekin up on the dominant 1 so this is away of allah teaching us how to have a merccy even with wronger 1 when hes down instead of takin that advantage and finishin him up…that just what i think but u guys knows better i guess

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  3. 3. IdaGlover 12:34 am 04/21/2014


    Animals have minds of their own.
    People are more aware of human-like behaviour in animals in the ape species, but they will be suprised of the level of other animals’ cognitive abilities, like the mouse.
    Let me stun you more.

    The African Cichlid -a fish- watch other males fight to size up their competition and prepare themselves, they even adopt female colors to sneak food from another male’s territory.
    Sheep recognize individual faces and remember them long term- two years later to be exact.
    New Caledonian crows make tools like hooks from sticks to poke into the trees where grubs hide.In a experiment conducted by Oxford professor, Dr Kacelnik, one of these crows he took in captivity made a hook out of a straight piece of wire by bending it in the cracks of the tile floor and using it to get to meat the professor put in a glass tube.

    Animals invent and plan. What a humbling thought.

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