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What Can Drunk Prairie Voles Tell Us about Booze and Relationships?

Rodents can tell people how alcohol influences men and women.

Prairie Voles

Prairie voles. Image credit: Emory University / YouTube.

It is the common experience that on one hand, alcohol can bind romantic pairs much closely, but on the other it can also break the relationship because of the extra-partner dalliance.

In order to find more about the dual nature of intoxication, scientists are trying to know how it could affect each gender in a different way. By doing so, they choose a bunch of drunk prairie voles for testing samples. The reason why voles are picked up is that among mammals, they are regarded to be quite faithful.

In the experiment, the voles were allowed to drink alcohol as they could in the period of twenty four hours, during which time scientists paired male and female voles, but not based on their   existing monogamous relationship and then they recorded the way in which these voles cuddled and/or mated. Later, they offered the chance to the couple to meet a new vole, either male or female. At the same time, with the same testing circumstances, a control experiment was also made except without alcohol.

According to their a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, almost 100 percent of female prairie voles, engaging in the ethanol festivities, preferred to interact with their partner in crime instead of the new guy. However, one the contrary, two-thirds of the sober females went for their overnight partners as the best choice and the voles gave little attention to the stranger any way.

To the scientists’ surprise, the male voles behaved in a different way, acting just the opposite to the female. Once reunited again, the drunken male voles usually kept away from their prior paramours and showed more interests to the new attractive strangers when being introduced to. However, on the other hand, the sober ones reacted as hopeless romantics, because they all stick to their original partner rather than the stranger.

By analyzing the brains of voles, scientists found that alcohol could decrease anxiety in the male voles, maybe like the humans in the way that alcohol could lower inhibitions as well. Alcohol would make it possible for the male voles to seek out a new partner rather than keeping their commitment. But as for the female voles, the booze seemed to upgrade anxiety, thus causing them to make attempt for establishing and maintaining a bond with a male.

It is understood that voles are significantly different from humans, even if some limited parallels do exist in this regard. Scientists have confirmed that the inhibition of bond formation in males is closely linked with the negative effects of alcohol on long-term attachments and marital happiness, which could be found for both men and women.

Source: Smithsonian

Journal reference: Anacker, Allison MJ, et al. “Drinking alcohol has sex-dependent effects on pair bond formation in prairie voles.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.16 (2014): 6052-6057.