Lovesick: Absence Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder

A look at a new study that says rodents depression is linked to a chemical; may be good news for humans in despair.

In the News

Lovesick – for Reals!

A new study finds absence really does make the heart grow fonder

-Carrie Seim

prairie volesPrairie voles: They’re just like us.

When separated from their partners, these rodents get a serious case of the brokenhearted blues. Instead of bingeing on Haagen-Dazs and Bridezilla marathons, the woe-filled voles lounge around listlessly and don’t even try to save themselves from drowning. (I think I wrote that exact same sentence in my 9th-grade diary.)

But a new study finds the rodents’ depression is linked to a chemical, which can be blocked to ease their despair, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Scientists dig studying prairie voles because they’re one of the few animal species that are (mostly) monogamous. Just like their (mostly) human male-politician counterparts. Sure, the boy voles will sometimes keep a muskrat mistress on the side, but the males always come crawling back to their primary prairie squeeze. Just in time for a contrite photo op.

So why do we care about all this rodent romance? Scientists hope it may lead to a way to treat human lovesickness. It offers evidence of a “loyalty chemical” in the voles, which also pops up in human brains. This compound could help explain, according to the article, the role of grief and longing in humans who’ve lost a partner. And also why people stick around bad relationships for waaay too long.

But professor C. Sue Carter wants us to slow down before we make the voles sound all cuddly Care Bear-ific. She cautions that what we think is depression could be a strategy for adaptation. “The passive voles might simply be conserving their energy for more important things … such as searching for a new mate,” she suggests in the article.

So maybe it’s less “Sleepless in Seattle” and more “Willard.” Rats.

Tell us: do you think absence makes the heart grow fonder?


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