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Kinder, Gentler Monkeys

January 25, 2012

Rhesus macaque monkeys become kinder after inhaling the hormone oxytocin.



A whiff of kindness.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The hormone oxytocin promotes feelings of love, attachment, and empathy.  It’s been studied often in humans and amorous animals like prairie voles.  Now, Duke University neurobiologist Michael Platt and his colleagues have tried it on rhesus macaque monkeys, a much less cuddly species.

MICHAEL PLATT (Duke University):

Rhesus macaques are very despotic, they’re very obsessed with hierarchy, they don’t form pair bonds between males and females to raise offspring.  So there are a number of different features of social organizations that are very different between humans and rhesus monkeys.

Still, Platt’s team found that inhaling oxytocin made the monkeys nicer: for example, they were more likely to help others get a treat.  Platt says their animal model could help researchers study the long-term effects of oxytocin therapy, which is being explored as a possible treatment for autism. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.