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Monkeys Display Behavior Similar to Autism, Study Says

Sep 24, 2016 04:14 AM EDT
Macaque monkeys
Some animals, like the monkey, may not have the innate ability to recognize their reflections, but they have the ability to learn.
(Photo : Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Can monkeys actually be diagnosed with autism? It's a condition that was believed to be exclusively found in humans, but a monkey in Japan is making scientists consider the possibility of the disorder in animals.

According to a report from Phys Org, Kyoko Yoshida and a team of other researchers noticed one of their monkeys acting strangely. Upon observation, they realized that the creature was displaying behavior similar to autism spectral disorder (ASD) such as repetition, reduced social behavior and not being able to respond or modify behavior to actions of others monkeys.

The findings of the team from Japan were published in Science Advances.

A Human Condition

Autism has always been believed as a human condition due to symptoms that include abnormalities in nonverbal types of behavior of social interaction like gestures and facial expressions. Other well-documented autistic behavior in humans also include delays in language development and the ability to follow and direct another individual's focus.

One of the theories of what causes autism is problems in mirror neurons, which could affect the ability of an individual to observe, judge and react to other people's actions.

Monkeys Displaying ASD Behavior

Yoshida's team in Japan discovered that the monkeys did display reduced amounts of mirror-type neurons. Their observations found that the monkey with the strange behavior was unable to respond to watching another monkey. It was also showing decreased social behavior and genetic variants associated with ASD.

There's still not enough data to definitively confirm that monkeys can have autism; the researchers simply said that the subject had a disorder that could be psychiatric and similar to ASD.

This study will be very valuable in tracing and defining the path of autistic behavior, and eventually define the causes and therapy possibilities of the condition.

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