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Trends Ecol Evol. 2005 Oct;20(10):561-7. Epub 2005 Jun 13.

Genes, brains and mammalian social bonds.

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Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, High Street, Madingley, UK, CB3 8AA.


Recent studies of monogamous species have revealed the role of the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in activating reward mechanisms of the brain that are involved in establishing partner recognition and selective 'bonding'. The evolutionary history of these findings resides, at a mechanistic level, in the reciprocal bonding between mother and infant that is common to all mammals. However, in Old World primates, where mother and infant alone would not survive, living in large social groups brings extended family relationships and provides for alloparenting. This has required the emancipation of parenting behaviour from the constraints of hormonal state and the evolution of large brains for decision making that was previously restricted and determined by hormonal state. How this has been achieved, what conserved mechanisms underpin social bonding, and what genetic and mechanistic changes have occurred in the evolution of social bonds are the issues addressed here.


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