Voles To Help Us Decode Desire

Oct 15, 2009 • News, Research

Prairie voles. Those little rodents that look a lot like fat mice, inhabit the tall grasses of the Midwest and whose infamous bent for monogamy could help us figure out why humans pair up.

Or so we’ve been told for years. Must have been a slow newsday on Monday when Bloomberg ran the story about some work being done by a research team at Emory University in Atlanta.

What we know so far: voles produce oxytocin and dopamine in their brains, two vital hormones for monogamy. The first creates bonds. The second fuels cravings and euphoria.

Essentially, voles have the Disney fairytale down flat. They meet, they sniff, they get down and bam! They have this everlasting bond that lasts forever, even after they stop making and rearing their babies–which they raise together.

Scientists have discovered that male voles may mate with another female after forming this bond with a previous partner, but this is only for the purpose of procreation. The magical bond they formed once never happens with any other vole again.

Larry J. Young, a social-neurobiology researcher at Emory who has been studying voles for the past 15 years had a bit of advice for those of us looking to do like voles.

“Engage in activities that stimulate oxytocin, that is, intimate contact,” Young said. “Your body is wired to be sensitive to the kind of intimate contact when you’re making love to release both oxytocin and dopamine to active those systems.”

Photo by Jacob Arnold.