The consolation behavior is not uniquely humans. Researhers have observed empathy in rodents as well
Empathy is a trait generally associated to humans. Human beings console their loved ones when they are sad and stressed.
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But a new research has found that rodents like prairie voles are also empathetic and show their feeling in the form of extra licking and grooming.
Researchers have found that oxytocin, a brain chemical that plays an important role in social bonding and sexual reproduction, acts the same way in prairie voles as in humans and promotes consolation behavior. This is the first time when consolation behavior is observed in rodents.
“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.”Co-author Frans de Waal, a researcher at Emory University study said in a statement.
When researchers blocked oxytocin signaling in the anterior cingulate cortex of prairie voles, the animals no longer consoled each other in distress.
Prairie voles are small rodents that are known for exhibiting human-like social behavior and are suitable animals for studying monogamous behavior and social bonding as they have only one partner in their entire life and do not look for others if one dies.
These findings have implications for understanding and treating mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia when the ability to understand and share the feelings of other and responding to their emotions disrupts.
“Many complex human traits have their roots in fundamental brain processes that are shared among many other spices,” said co-author Larry Young. “We now have the opportunity to explore in detail the neural mechanisms underlying empathetic responses in a laboratory rodent with clear implications for humans.”
The study was published in journal Science.