Mesotocin influences pinyon jay prosociality

J. F. Duque, W. Leichner, H. Ahmann, J. R. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Many species exhibit prosocial behaviour, in which one individual's actions benefit another individual, often without an immediate benefit to itself. The neuropeptide oxytocin is an important hormonal mechanism influencing prosociality in mammals, but it is unclear whether the avian homologue mesotocin plays a similar functional role in birds. Here, we experimentally tested prosociality in pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), a highly social corvid species that spontaneously shares food with others. First, we measured prosocial preferences in a prosocial choice task with two different pay-off distributions: Prosocial trials delivered food to both the subject and either an empty cage or a partner bird, whereas Altruism trials delivered food only to an empty cage or a partner bird (none to subject). In a second experiment, we examined whether administering mesotocin influenced prosocial preferences. Compared to choices in a control condition, we show that subjects voluntarily delivered food rewards to partners, but only when also receiving food for themselves (Prosocial trials), and administration of high levels of mesotocin increased these behaviours. Thus, in birds, mesotocin seems to play a similar functional role in facilitating prosocial behaviours as oxytocin does in mammals, suggesting an evolutionarily conserved hormonal mechanism for prosociality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180105
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018


  • Altruism
  • Corvid
  • Mesotocin
  • Oxytocin
  • Prosocial behaviour
  • Prosocial choice task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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