A new study finds that the tiny little creatures have an adorable coping mechanism.
Prairie voles may seem like just another furry little critter, but they behave very human-like a new study has found.
Researchers found that when their loved ones were stressed, the voles would console them with an extra-long licking, according to a UPI report.
Up until now, scientists had only seen such behavior in dogs, elephants, and dolphins — already very intelligent creatures, at least compared to the vole.
But while lacking in intelligence, voles are very sociable creatures that mate for life, which is what makes them such great subjects for study on social bonding and its evolutionary purpose.
The research, which involved scientiss at Emory University, involved separating relatives and then watching what happens when they put them back together. About half the time, one of the voles was given electric shocks to raise its stress levels.
The researchers noted that the companions of the shocked voles began licking more quickly and for longer than the control group.
In addition, the researchers found that the voles that had not been shocked became stressed themselves when they couldn’t rejoin a stressed relative.
Also, scientists said this didn’t happen when non-relatives were put together. The non-relatives still groomed, but the patterns didn’t change with stress, indicating a higher degree of empathy for relatives.
In a statement, co-author Larry Young noted that this discovery could shed light on the human brain.
“Many complex human traits have their roots in fundamental brain processes that are shared among many other species,” said 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 statement added: “The authors suggest that consoling behavior evolved in the context of prairie voles’ monogamous social structure by tweaking brain systems involved in maternal nurturing, which are present in all mammals.”