Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents

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Science  22 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6271, pp. 375-378
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4785

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  • RE: Comments on the article:"Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents"
    • Ana Pérez-Manrique, phd student, University of the Balearic Islands
    • Other Contributors:
      • Antoni Gomila, Professor, University of the Balearic Islands

    In this paper, Burkett and collaborators argue that prairie voles show consolation behavior, as a form of empathy, whose neurobiological mechanisms are phylogenetically continuous with those of humans. In so doing, they go beyond previous research on empathy in rodents, which show that they exhibit emotional contagion (1), to contend that consolation is also possible without advanced cognitive capacities. In our view, there are at least two issues which should addressed before such a conclusion can be established.
    First, it is not clear enough that the observer behavior is really consolation, rather than its way to cope with distress or a case of solicited bystander affiliation. In rodents, ultrasonic vocalizations may work as a communication tool, transmitting emotional/environmental information (2). Pups emit them as distress signals, inducing parental approach and physical contact (3). Tactile stimulation of fur or the presence of a littermate reduces these calls (4, 5). Prairie vole pups produce higher rates of vocalizations than meadow voles during distressing situations (6). Although their function and occurrence in adult voles is not well established, it has been suggested that they may have an affiliative function since familiarity enhances their production (7). If so, assuming that it is a case of consolation would not be justified.
    Second, given the involvement of oxytocin, stronger effects should be found in females. In addition, female and male mead...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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