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Love hormone Found to Make Birds More Generous!

Mesotocin is a love hormone similar to oxytocin which is found in humans. Scientists have been keen to discover if this hormone would change avian behaviour and so conducted a study to find out.

Dr Juan Duque, a neuroscientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln led a new study which looked at the effects of the hormone. It was Pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) which were the subject of the research. This species is also known as the blue crow and the Maximilian’s jay and is a little smaller than the North American blue jay in size. The birds are native to western North America.

Testing Generosity in Pinyon Jays

The scientists wanted to find out if mesotocin made the birds’ behaviour more generous. In other words, would they share their food. In humans, the hormone oxytocin is found in the brain and makes people more generous in their treatment of others. The hormone has been found to regulate many human behaviours including empathy, orgasms and bonding between mothers and babies. Oxytocin and similar hormones have now been found in other animals.

Similar love hormones are found in species which are only distantly related to mammals. Mesotocin is basically avian oxytocin. But scientists weren’t sure whether the hormone influenced avian behaviour in the same way that it effects that of humans.

Sociable Birds Chosen for Study

Pinyon jays were chosen for the research because they are highly sociable birds which are related to crows. They are known to be willing to share food with each other. In animals this type of behaviour is referred to as proscocial. The team devised experiments in which the birds were given a choice – feed themselves or feed other birds housed in adjacent cages. The snacks provided for them were tasty mealworms.

Experiments Produce the Anticipated Results

The experiments confirmed that the jays were often willing to provide their fellow birds with a meal. The scientists then administered solutions to the birds which contained high concentrations of the hormone mesotocin. The solution was administered through the birds’ noses. The research team watched what happened next and found that the jays became more willing to share their food after they had received the hormone.

Why are Jays so Kind?

The study confirmed that mesotocin does play a key role in bird behaviour. However, the researchers are yet to understand why the jays have developed their capacity for kindness. It is possible that a willingness to share food is linked to other prosocial behaviours including the formation of new bonds and the maintenance of existing bonds.

Pinyon jays might be using food sharing and other prosocial behaviours as a way to increase their social network. Clever birds!


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