They "licked the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor," said a statement from Emory University.
Consoling behavior was also not seen in prairie voles that were unfamiliar with each other before being separated.
Knowing that in the human brain, the receptor for oxytocin - also known as the love hormone - is associated with empathy, researchers decided to block this neurotransmitter in the brains of some of the animals.
They found that blocking oxytocin caused the animals to stop consoling each other.
"Many complex human traits have their roots in fundamental brain processes that are shared among many other species," said co-author Larry Young, director of the Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition at Emory University.
Young said his research points to a potential role for oxytocin in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder, though more work is needed.
"We now have the opportunity to explore in detail the neural mechanisms underlying empathetic responses in a laboratory rodent with clear implications for humans."