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J Comp Psychol. 2006 Feb;120(1):31-7.

Amygdala size and hypothalamus size predict social play frequency in nonhuman primates: a comparative analysis using independent contrasts.

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Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.


The amygdala and hypothalamus become sexually differentiated by gonadal hormones giving rise to sexually differentiated behaviors, which include play behavior. Phylogenetic comparative analyses test for relationships between social play and brain structure volumes. Relative volume of the amygdala and hypothalamus correlated with social play, but not nonsocial play, even after controlling for the size of other brain structures. The authors propose that behaviors such as social assessment, recognizing and responding to facial expression, and social response appropriateness, which are mediated by the amygdala, are developed through social play. Additionally, the hypothalamus may regulate the motivation to engage in play through positive reinforcement of pleasurable activity. Thus, the instinctive socio-emotive aspects of play in primates appear to be those regulated by the amygdala and hypothalamus.

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