Neuroscience at The University of Chicago

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PhD, Harvard




947 E 58th St

Chicago, Illinois 60637



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Peggy Mason, PhD


Research Interests
  • Systems / Behavior / Cognitive
After decades of focusing my attention on descending pain modulation, recently, my laboratory has worked primarily on the neurobiology of empathy and pro-social behavior. We are using a number of behavioral, anatomical, and imaging-based approaches to explore the biological basis of empathically motivated helping behavior. We want to understand the basic biological mechanisms that support helping as well as the developmental and environmental factors that influence the expression of pro-social behavior. 

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Empathy-related publications: Ben-Ami Bartal I, Murray TM, Williams JZ, J. Decety J, Mason P (2013) Emotional contagion is required for pro-social behavior in rats. Soc Neurosci Abstract [# 2013-S-8141]. Ben-Ami Bartal I, Decety J, Mason P (2011) Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats. Science 334: 1427-30. This paper is the first demonstration of empathically motivated helping behavior in rodents. Mason P, Bartal IB (2010) How the social brain experiences empathy: summary of a gathering. Soc Neurosci 6:1-5. This review describes a variety of perspectives on empathy from the point of view of biology, anthropology, medicine, and psychology. Mason P (2007) Empathy is a pain: so why bother? Mind Matters, Scientific American, December issue. This is a commentary on Jeff Mogil's excellent work showing empathy for pain between mouse cagemates (Langford et al (2006), Science 312:1967-70).  Select publications related to pain modulation: Hellman KM, Mason P, Opioids disrupt pro-nociceptive modulation mediated by raphe magnus. J Neurosci 32(2012)13668-78. PMID: 23035079[PubMed - in process]. Foo H, Mason P, Ingestion analgesia occurs when a bad taste turns good, Behav Neurosci 125(2011)956-61. [PMCID: PMC3226930] Foo H, Mason P, Analgesia accompanying food consumption requires ingestion of hedonic foods. J Neurosci 29(2009)13053-62. Foo H, Crabtree K, Thrasher A, Mason P, Eating is a protected behavior even in the face of persistent pain in male rats. Physiol Behav 97(2009)426-9. Mason P, Gao K, Genzen JR, Serotonergic raphe magnus cell discharge reflects on-going autonomic and respiratory activities J Neurophysiol 98(2007)1919-27. Nason MW, Mason P, Medullary raphe neurons facilitate brown adipose tissue activation J Neurosci 26(2006)1190-8. Baez MA, Brink TS, Mason P, Roles for pain modulatory cells during micturition and continence J Neurosci 25(2005)384-394. Foo H, Mason P, Sensory suppression during feeding. PNAS 102(2005)16865-16869. Brink TS, Mason P, Role for raphe magnus neuronal responses in the behavioral reactions to colorectal distension. J Neurophysiol 93(2004)2302-11. Nason MW, Mason P, Modulation of sympathetic and somatomotor function by the ventromedial medulla J Neurophysiol 92(2004)510-522. Foo H, Mason P, Discharge of raphe magnus ON and OFF cells is predictive of the motor facilitation evoked by repeated laser stimulation. J Neurosci 23(2003)1933-1940. Leung CG, Mason P, Physiological properties of medullary raphe neurons during sleep and waking. J Neurophysiol 81(1999)584-595. Leung CG, Mason P, A physiological survey of medullary raphe and magnocellular reticular neurons in the anesthetized rat. J Neurophysiol 80(1998)1630-1646. Gao K, Chen DO, Genzen JR, Mason P, Activation of serotonergic neurons in the raphe magnus is not necessary for morphine analgesia. J Neurosci 18(1998)1860-1868. Gao K, Kim YH, Mason P, SEROTONERGIC pontomedullary neurons are not activated by antinociceptive stimulation in the periaqueductal gray. J Neurosci 17(1997)3285-3292. Mason P, Physiological identification of pontomedullary serotonergic neurons in the rat. J Neurophysiol 77(1997)1087-1098. Selected reviews on pain modulation: Mason P, Medullary circuits for nociceptive modulation. Curr Op Neurobiol 22(2012)640-5. PMID: 22483535. Mason P, Two negatives make a positive: telencephalic-mediated analgesia. Exp Neurol 236(2012)336-8. PMID: 22580343. Mason P, From descending pain modulation to obesity via the medullary raphe. Pain 152(2011)S20-4. PMID: 21087824 Mason P, Placing pain on the sensory map: classic papers by Ed Perl and colleagues, J Neurophysiol 97(2007)1871-3.  Mason P, Contributions of the medullary raphe and ventromedial reticular region to pain modulation and other homeostatic functions. Ann Rev Neurosci 25(2001)737-777.