Social Monogamy in Nonhuman Primates: Phylogeny, Phenotype, and Physiology

Jeffrey A. French, Jon Cavanaugh, Aaryn C. Mustoe, Sarah B. Carp, Stephanie L. Womack

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Monogamy as a social system has been both a scientific puzzle and a sociocultural issue for decades. In this review, we examine social monogamy from a comparative perspective with a focus on primates, our closest genetic relatives. We break down monogamy into component elements, including pair-bonding and partner preference, mate guarding or jealousy, social attachment, and biparental care. Our survey of primates shows that not all features are present in species classified as socially monogamous, in the same way that human monogamous relationships may not include all elements—a perspective we refer to as “monogamy à la carte.” Our review includes a survey of the neurobiological correlates of social monogamy in primates, exploring unique or common pathways for the elemental components of monogamy. This compilation reveals that the components of monogamy are modulated by a suite of androgenic steroids, glucocorticoid hormones, the nonapeptide hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, and other neurotransmitter systems (e.g., dopamine and opioids). We propose that efforts to understand the biological underpinnings of complex human and animal sociosexual relationships will be well served by exploring individual phenotypic traits, as opposed to pursuing these questions with the assumption that monogamy is a unitary trait or a species-specific characteristic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-434
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Jun 13 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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