We have the honor of presenting Peggy Mason, PhD to you lovely Skepticonites. Peggy is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago. She received both her BA in Biology and her PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard. She actually wrote a single-author textbook that’s designed for medical students. Translation: She’s smarter than hell and we couldn’t be happier to have her at this years event!!!!!

In her research, Peggy uses a variety of methods to find out the biological basis behind empathy and helping behavior. Her current work actually involves studying empathy in rats (not the Splinter/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind). She wants to understand the basic biology that influences pro-social behavior. Our favorite thing about Peggy Mason is that she can distill all the super crazy sciency stuff down into something your average person can understand and relate to on her super fun blog The Brain is So Cool.

“In an effort to assess the value of empathic behavior, we tested rats who were devoted chocolate chip-eaters: when given a bowl of 20 chips, they ate more than 7 chocolate chips on average. These rats were placed in an arena with two restrainers, one containing 5 chocolate chips… and the other containing their trapped cagemate. As it turned out, they opened both restrainers…  This finding told us that releasing a cagemate has a value on par with chocolate. Amazing! …It also turned out that the free rat ate only 3.5 chips on average, leaving 1.5 chips for his cagemate. This remarkable result told me that these rats are far more generous with their chocolate than my sister-in-law.” -Peggy

Our second favorite thing is that when she heard about the new venue’s teal glitter floors, she was all in. She’s our kind of scientist… Obsessed with rats, happy feelings, chocolate, and glitter. We’re thinking that there might be a correlation between happy feelings and glitter. Someone needs to mock up some graphs before November so we can see the correlation between glitter and happy feelings! While you’re at it, please donate to Skepticon so that we can afford to give you more of these kinds of nifty bells and whistles!

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