Social isolation affects partner-directed social behavior and cortisol during pair formation in marmosets, Callithrix geoffroyi

Adam S. Smith, Andrew K. Birnie, Jeffrey A. French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Pair-bonded relationships form during periods of close spatial proximity and high sociosexual contact. Like other monogamous species, marmosets form new social pairs after emigration or ejection from their natal group resulting in periods of social isolation. Thus, pair formation often occurs following a period of social instability and a concomitant elevation in stress physiology. Research is needed to assess the effects that prolonged social isolation has on the behavioral and cortisol response to the formation of a new social pair. We examined the sociosexual behavior and cortisol during the first 90-days of cohabitation in male and female Geoffroy's tufted-ear marmosets (Callithrix geoffroyi) paired either directly from their natal group (Natal-P) or after a prolonged period of social isolation (ISO-P). Social isolation prior to pairing seemed to influence cortisol levels, social contact, and grooming behavior; however, sexual behavior was not affected. Cortisol levels were transiently elevated in all paired marmosets compared to natal-housed marmosets. However, ISO-P marmosets had higher cortisol levels throughout the observed pairing period compared to Natal-P marmoset. This suggests that the social instability of pair formation may lead to a transient increase in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity while isolation results in a prolonged HPA axis dysregulation. In addition, female social contact behavior was associated with higher cortisol levels at the onset of pairing; however, this was not observed in males. Thus, isolation-induced social contact with a new social partner may be enhanced by HPA axis activation, or a moderating factor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-961
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 24 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Affiliative behavior
  • Glucocorticoid
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • Monogamy
  • Pair-bonding
  • Sexual behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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