While separation from significant social partners produces a host of neurobiological and behavioral perturbations, including behavioral distress and increased glucocorticoid production, positive social interactions upon reunion are critical for the reestablishment of normative relationship dynamics and the attenuation of the biobehavioral stress response. The hormone oxytocin has critical and pervasive roles in reproductive and behavioral processes across the lifespan, and plays a particularly prominent role in social bonding. In this study, we examined the extent that oxytocin modulates interactions with a pairmate following separation challenges that varied in both social context (isolation; separation) and duration (long; short), in marmosets. We demonstrated that the impact of pharmacological manipulations of the oxytocin system on the expression of affiliation upon reunion depended on both the context and duration of the separation challenge. Specifically, marmosets treated with an oxytocin antagonist spent less time in proximity with their pairmate upon reunion following a long-separation challenge. During the short-separation challenge, marmosets engaged in more social gaze when separated with an opposite-sex stranger, but not when separated with their mate. Furthermore, marmosets that received the most social gaze from opposite-sex strangers spent the most time in proximity with their long-term mate upon reunion. We also showed that marmosets treated with an OT agonist received increased levels of gaze from opposite-sex strangers, but not from their mate. Overall, these results suggest that marmosets are sensitive to the nature of the social interactions during separation, and subsequently alter their expression of affiliation upon reunion with their long-term mate. These findings further implicate oxytocin as a bond-enhancing molecule that regulates the reestablishment of normative levels of affiliation with a mate following separation, and add to the emerging literature that suggests the OT system underlies critical behavioral processes that contribute to the preservation of long-lasting social bonds.
- social gaze
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology