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Reviews in the Neurosciences

Editor-in-Chief: Huston, Joseph P.

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Volume 24, Issue 1


Aversive motivation and the maintenance of monogamous pair bonding

Shanna L. Resendez / Brandon J. Aragona
  • Corresponding author
  • Program in Neuroscience, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
  • Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
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Published Online: 2012-12-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/revneuro-2012-0068


Social bonds are important for human health and well-being, and a crucial component of these bonds is the ability to maintain a bond once it has been formed. Importantly, although bond maintenance is required for social attachments, very little is known about the neural mechanisms that mediate this behavior. Recently, laboratory studies utilizing the socially monogamous prairie vole (an excellent animal model for the neurobiology of selective social attachment), have allowed the neural correlates of selective social attachment to begin to unfold. These studies have identified that the activation of both motivational and hedonic processing systems, which mediate other natural rewards, is also important for mediating social behaviors that are characteristic of an established pair bond. These social behaviors include appetitive and positive social interactions with a potential mating partner in sexually naïve prairie voles, the avoidance of novel conspecifics (and sometimes aggressive rejection) that characterizes the established pair bond and, finally, an aversion towards partner separation. The following review will discuss how a balance between opposing endogenous opioid systems – positive (mu-opiod receptors) and aversive (kappa-opioid receptors) – provide essential hedonic signaling that guides socially motivated behaviors.

Keywords: nucleus accumbens shell; opioids; pair bond; prairie voles; social attachment

About the article

Shanna L. Resendez

Dr. Resendez began exploring her interests in the neurobiology of social bonding as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis. As a student at UC Davis, she had the opportunity to work in the laboratory of Dr. Karen Bales. Dr. Bales is an expert in the development and evolution of social bonding and under her mentorship, Dr. Resendez gained experience running behavioral assays of social bonding. This experience sparked her interest in the neural processes that guide socially motivated behavior. She therefore pursued her graduate studies with Dr. Brandon Aragona at the University of Michigan – an expert in the neurobiology of social attachment and motivated behavior. In the laboratory of Dr. Aragona, she currently works on projects designed to elucidate how interactions between motivational and hedonic processing systems mediate social decision making, especially in relation to attachment formation and maintenance. Dr. Resendez believes that this research is of great importance to human health as the disruption of significant social bonds has been shown to have profound impacts on mental health.

Brandon J. Aragona

Dr. Aragona began his interest in the neurobiology of motivation by studying the neuroscience of social attachment in prairie voles in Zuoxin Wang’s lab at the Florida State University. He then did his post-doctoral work with Mark Wightman and Gina Carelli at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since starting his lab at the University of Michigan, Dr. Aragona has continued this work with a particular focus on how social bonding is mediated by aversive motivation. More detail about Dr. Aragona’s lab can be found at www.aragonalab.com.

Corresponding authors: Shanna L. Resendez and Brandon J. Aragona, Program in Neuroscience, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

Received: 2012-08-10

Accepted: 2012-09-08

Published Online: 2012-12-21

Published in Print: 2013-02-01

Citation Information: Reviews in the Neurosciences, Volume 24, Issue 1, Pages 51–60, ISSN (Online) 2191-0200, ISSN (Print) 0334-1763, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/revneuro-2012-0068.

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