Peggy Mason


Department of Neurobiology

The University of Chicago
947 E. 58th St., MC0926
Chicago, IL 60637 

Phone: (773) 702-3144
Fax: (773) 702-1216
Office: SBRI J 239


Research Summary

After a 25-year focus on the cellular mechanisms of pain modulation (how does morphine work? and related questions), my laboratory’s energy is now focused on the biological basis of empathy and helping. Important questions include:

  • Do rats help another in distress? Yes 
  • Who do they help? Strangers and familiars alike, as long as they know the type (strain) of rat
  • What motivates rats to help another in distress? This is a work in progress but right now, it looks as though the motivation is a rodent version of empathy
  • What are the brain circuits that support affective communication between two individuals? We are using a variety of methods to go into the brain and understand the circuits underlying pro-social behavior

In addition to leading a research laboratory, I am committed to teaching neurobiology to anyone that will listen. As the first “neuroevangelist,” I tweet as @NeuroMOOC and blog at I am also thrilled to be able to teach neurobiology to the interested public through a massively open online course (MOOC) on Coursera ( My initial session of Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life was offered in 2014 and attracted more than 55,000 students; a second session will be starting up in early 2015. I welcome all to come join in the neuro-fun!


Select Publications

Ben-Ami Bartal I, Shan H, Molasky NM, Murray TM, Williams JZ, Decety J and Mason P (2016). Anxiolytic treatment impairs helping behavior in rats. Front. Psychol. 7:850. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00850

Ben-Ami Bartal I, Rodgers DA, Bernardez Sarria MS, Decety J, Mason P. Pro-social behavior in rats is modulated by social experience. Elife. 2014;3:e01385. 

Wang Q, Fong R, Mason P, Fox AP, Xie Z. Caffeine accelerates recovery from general anesthesia. J Neurophysiol. 2014 Mar;111(6):1331-40.

Bartal I, Decety J and Mason P, Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats, Science 9 December 2011:Vol. 334 no. 6061 pp. 1427-1430, DOI: 10.1126/science.1210789

Hellman KM, Mason P (2012) Opioids disrupt pro-nociceptive modulation mediated by raphe magnus. J Neurosci 32:13668-78.

Mason P (2012) Medullary circuits for nociceptive modulation. Curr Opin Neurobiol 22:640-5.

Mason P (2012) Two negatives make a positive: telencephalic-mediated analgesia. Exp Neurol 236:336-8.