Brains Are Wired For Cooperation, Animal Study Suggests

Looking at the singing patterns of plain-tailed wrens sheds light on the human inclination to work cooperatively, a new study suggests.

The Science study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, suggests that we're all wired to work together.

Researchers took to the Ecuadorian forests to examine the song patterns of plain-tailed wrens to come to this conclusion. These kinds of wrens sing together in a seemingly unified singing voice in an ABCD pattern -- with the male wren singing the A and C parts, and the female wren singing the B and D parts.

Researchers looked at the activity of the brain region responsible for singing in the wrens. They found that "neurons reacted more strongly to the duet song -- with both the male and female birds singing -- over singing their own parts alone," study researcher Eric Fortune, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement.

"In fact, the brain's responses to duet songs were stronger than were responses to any other sound. ... It looked like the brains of wrens are wired to cooperate," he added.

Even though the study was just in birds, Fortune said that the brains of vertebrate animals -- including birds, humans, cats, fish and bears, among many others -- are very similar. The findings support that even humans are built to work cooperatively, he said.

"We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part," Fortune said in the statement.

Similarly, a recent study in the journal Current Biology shows that human children enjoy working cooperatively more than chimps. The 3-year-olds in the study chose to work together 78 percent of the time to complete a task, while the chimps only worked together 58 percent of the time (which, researchers said, meant the chimps chose their work styles randomly).

"A preference for doing things together instead of alone differentiates humans from one of our closely related primate cousins," the study's researcher, Daniel Haun, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, told PhysOrg.com.

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