Helping Behavior in Prairie Voles: A Model of Empathy and the Importance of Oxytocin
Several studies suggest that rodents show empathic responses and helping behavior toward others. We examined whether prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) would help conspecifics who were soaked in water by opening a door to a safe area. Door-opening latency decreased as task sessions progressed. When the conspecific was not soaked in water, the latency of the door-opening did not decrease, indicating that the distress of the conspecific is necessary for the learning of the door-opening. These suggest that prairie voles learn helping behavior. We found no sex difference in the door-opening latency or the interest in other voles soaked in water. Additionally, we also examined the helping behavior in prairie voles in which oxytocin receptors were genetically knocked out. Oxytocin receptor knockout voles demonstrated less learning of the door-opening and less interest in other voles soaked in water. This suggests that oxytocin is important for the emergence of helping behavior.