Study On Prairie Voles Sheds Light On Animal Empathy

Animals may be more capable of empathy than previously thought. This emotion is considered to be on a higher-level order because it requires a recognition of pain in others.

Now, scientists have added the prairie vole to the list which already includes more mentally advanced animals like dogs and elephants. In the experiment, pairs of voles who knew each other were separated, and one received mild shocks.

When they were reunited, the non-stressed members licked their partners longer and sooner than in other trials where neither had been stimulated. Distress hormones also increased in those who could not provide enough comfort. Adding to the evidence of empathy is that these responses were not observed among pairs of strangers. Oxytocin, which is known as a love hormone, has been attributed as a possible factor in this behavior.