Friends and Benefits

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Scientists have found that monkeys with more friends had larger areas of the brain linked to empathy and social-decision making, the Independent reported.

In a new study, researchers monitored a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques in Puerto Rico for a number of years. They primarily focused on how the monkeys interacted with their grooming partners, which are considered direct and important relationships for the animals.

The team also examined brain scans of the macaques and social factors, including the number of partners and social status.

Their findings showed macaques with more grooming partners had larger key nodes in their brain’s mid-superior temporal sulcus (STS) and ventral-dysgranular insula. The two areas play an important role in decision-making and empathy, researchers noted.

“It was very interesting to find these regions, as their importance is known for social cognition in humans,” said co-author Jérôme Sallet.

Sallet and his colleagues explained that these different brain structures are not inherited but occur during development depending on the social environment.

They suggested that the study could have implications for human behavior and help understand a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

“This work provides a baseline for understanding how these animals navigate,” said Michael Platt, another author. “It’s really thrilling and gratifying that this work done in the field is synergizing work we’ve been doing in the lab for a long time.”

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