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Monkeys’ Cries for Help Related to Two Brain Systems

March 07, 2005

How distressed primates cry out for help may be related to the balance of their perception of threat and their drive for affiliation, researchers report. Calling for help during times of separation is vital but risky behavior; vocal cries can alert not only other social group members but predators as well. Although this behavior is universal in primates, little is known about the brain circuitry that underlies individual differences in calling for help. Ned Kalin and colleagues observed 25 rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) separated from their cage mates and noted the frequency of the monkeys’ coo calls. The authors then looked at the monkeys’ brains with high-resolution scans, which show metabolic activity in specific brain areas. The authors found that the frequency of a monkey’s cries for help was related to increased activity in a brain area that mediates goal-directed behavior, and decreased activity in another area that mediates threat detection. These findings in monkeys are relevant to humans, the authors say, and possibly provide an understanding of why and how individuals behave when in need of social support.

“Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception” Andrew S. Fox, Terrence R. Oakes, Steven E. Shelton, Alexander K. Converse, Richard J. Davidson, Ned H. Kalin, PNAS 03 07 05

Abstract © 2005 PNAS

Ned Kalin, University of Wisconsin-Medical School

More about monkey brains: Brain Asymmetries in Monkeys and Humans

To hear a rhesus macaque coo, see Monkeys match expression and sound