Animal Empathy Sheds Light on Autism
February 03, 2016
A new study of prairie voles shows that they can not only tell when a member of their family has been hurt, they also show empathy.
Prairie voles mate for life and live in family groups (although they may have sex outside of the pair bond).
Larry Young (one of the original researchers who discovered oxytocin's role in animal bonding) and James Burkett of Emory University gave shocks to some voles in the family and then returned them. The other voles tried to soothe the ones that had been shocked by licking them.
I think it's pretty cool that this study showed that animals share some of humans' "higher emotions."
And, of course, research has identified the oxytocin system as a possible cause of or influence on autism for several years. Maybe this is a way scientists could study autism? The article quotes Larry Young:
"Many complex human traits have their roots in fundamental brain processes that are shared among many other species," Young said, according to the publication. "We now have the opportunity to explore in detail the neural mechanisms underlying empathetic responses in a laboratory rodent with clear implications for humans."
What a study about empathy in animals may be able to tell us about autism in humans