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Empathy as a Trait that is not Unique to Humans Alone, Study

Update Date: Jan 24, 2016 06:32 PM EST

Empathy is a classic trait of humans where we commonly offer comfort to friends and family members that are hurt or sad. However, a new study reveals that humans are not the only animals with empathy in their system. Prairie voles are also known to console each other in their tough times, just like humans do. This research could lend better understanding to the way humans empathize.

It has been several decades since the biologists have learnt that humans are not the only animals that care for each other. Researchers discovered back in 1979 that chimpanzees also offer consolation and care to each other after being attacked. They are also known to make truce with their attackers with hugs and kisses. Dogs also understand their masters and so do ravens and elephants. These species are considered intelligent but it takes a bit of cognitive intricacy to display the signs of empathy.

To understand this deeper, James Burkett, a neuroscience graduate student at Emory University, and his colleagues examined a prairie vole, a specie considered a close relative of a rat. Burkett and other researchers on his team paired several prairie voles side-by-side in different cages. First the "demonstrator" was removed from the "observer". Then the former was either subjected to mild electric shocks on their feet for half a second or left alone. The shock treatment continued 5 times in the course of 24 minutes, said Pacific Standard

After the experiment, the researchers at Emory were able to tell exactly in which part of vole's brains does the empathy related behaviors happen. That part of vole's brain, anterior cingulate cortex, is the same as humans. They also release oxytocin, a hormone known in humans for maternal care and bonding, as reported by Popular Science

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