Defensive behaviors in infant rhesus monkeys: environmental cues and neurochemical regulation

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Science  31 Mar 1989:
Vol. 243, Issue 4899, pp. 1718-1721
DOI: 10.1126/science.2564702


To survive, primates must detect danger in time to activate appropriate defensive behaviors. In this study, the defensive behaviors of infant rhesus monkeys exposed to humans were characterized. It was observed that the direction of the human's gaze is a potent cue for the infant. Infants separated from their mothers were active and emitted frequent distress vocalizations. When a human entered the room but did not look at the infant, it became silent and froze in one position. If the human stared at the infant, it responded with aggressive barking. Alterations of the opiate system affected the frequency of the infant's distress calls without affecting barking and freezing, whereas benzodiazepine administration selectively reduced barking and freezing. This suggests that opiate and benzodiazepine systems regulate specific defensive behaviors in primates and that these systems work together to mediate behavioral responses important for survival.

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