For many species, dyadic interaction during courtship and pair bonding engage intense emotional states that control approach or avoidance behavior. Previous studies have shown that one component of a common social brain network (SBN), dopaminergic areas, are highly engaged during male songbird courtship of females. We tested whether the level of activity in dopaminergic systems of both females and males during courtship is related to their level of affiliation. In order to objectively quantify affiliative behaviors, we developed a system for tracking the position of both birds during free interaction sessions. During a third successive daily interaction session, there was a range of levels of affiliation among bird pairs, as quantified by several position and movement parameters. Because both positive and negative social interactions were present, we chose to characterize affiliation strength by pair valence. As a potential neural system involved in regulating pair valence, the level of activity of the dopaminergic group A11 (within the central gray) was selectively reduced in females of positive valence pairs. Further, activation of non-dopaminergic neurons in VTA was negatively related to valence, with this relationship strongest in ventral VTA of females. Together, these results suggest that inhibition of fear or avoidance networks may be associated with development of close affiliation, and highlight the importance of negative as well as positive emotional states in the process of courtship, and in development of long-lasting social bonds.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience