Voles That Console

Feeling stressed? Hug a prairie vole!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

When you’re upset, friends come to comfort you. Why? Because of oxytocin, a.k.a. the love hormone. It’s linked to the warm fuzzy feelings you get from a hug. But studying oxytocin and fuzzy feelings further in humans is problematic. Hundreds of subjects would be needed to obtain measurable results.

Fortunately, prairie voles—as if they weren’t already cute enough! Well, these small mouselike rodents also comfort their friends. Researchers at Emory University found that when these voles see a distressed vole, they start grooming it to make it feel better. Voles also show empathy by matching fear and anxiety responses of their stressed out buddy.

When the researchers chemically suppressed oxytocin in the voles? The voles did not provide any comfort to their suffering peers.

This suggests that the mechanism for consoling behavior in prairie voles is similar to humans’.

So if you’re stressed, all you need is love—from either a human or a prairie vole. Your choice!