Photo credit: Tatyana Kazakova/Pixabay
By Katherine Derla
Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center researchers found that mice-like prairie voles are capable of showing empathy when fellow voles are distraught. The study can be useful in better understanding and creating treatments for psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The brain chemical oxytocin is linked to social bonding and maternal nurturing in humans. Researchers discovered that oxytocin also acts in a brain of the rodents the same way as with humans, which enable the animals to have consoling behaviors.
This consoling behavior is strongest among voles that they are familiar with. The team didn’t find the same social behavior in the prairie vole’s close relative, the meadow vole.
“Scientists have been reluctant to attribute empathy to animals, often assuming selfish motives. These explanations have never worked well for consolation behavior, however, which is why this study is so important,” said co-author Frans de Waal, Ph.D., who first observed consolation behavior among animals by studying how chimpanzees comfort victims of violence in 1979.
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