Neurobiology of Pair Bonding Article Critique

Pages: 5 (1516 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Psychology

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Pair bonding is the fundamental process that influences evolutionary selection in monogamously inclined species. As such its importance cannot be understated in any evolutionary model. This subject area of behavioral neuroscience has implication across a number of scientific and social science disciplines.

The Neurology of Pair Bonding (Young and Wang 2004)

This literature review set forth to describe a neurobiological model of pair bond formation that has been discovered through the study of prairie voles. This model studied the interaction of Oxytocin, AVP, and Dopamine systems (Young and Wang 2004) and the structure of the reward circuitry. Remarkable similarities of vole and human social structures suggest that this model holds validity. One significant difference that will require further investigation is the difference in brain structures, specifically in the human neo-cortex.

Neural correlates of pair-bonding in a monogamous primate (Bales et al. 2007)

Previous studies in pair bonding have predominantly utilized rodent populations to test hypotheses. Additionally a focus on short-term pair bonding formation was held constant. This study broke both conventions by testing monogamous primates, Callicebus cupreus, in long-term pair bonding experiments. The goal was to validate previous studies by showing that similar results can be obtained in primate species in long-term pair bonds.

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Part 1 - The Neurology of Pair Bonding (Young and Wang 2004)

There are many challenges inherent in deciphering the "human social brain" (Young and Wang 2004). This article provides us with a framework that takes the first steps in explaining the regulation and evolution that has occurred within the human complex social behavior system. The validity of utilizing prairie voles as ideal rodents due to their social structure and brain mechanics is another key highlight.

TOPIC: Article Critique on Neurobiology of Pair Bonding Assignment

The validity was tested through studying two groups: monogamous and nonmonogamous vole species. Differences in where OTR and VlaR were distributed provided a further biological distinguishing variable to accompany the sociological variable of monogamy. However, more than one study will be needed to unequivocally accept this. Testing other species with similar characteristics could lend credence that these results were not a type II error.

Study of the interaction between Dopamine, AVP, and oxytocin has suggested that reward circuitry is behind pair bonding. The combination of social discrimination circuits being activated by oxytocin and AVP and reward mechanisms from dopamine create a behavior similar to addiction (Gobrogge, Liu, and Wang 2008). The authors suggest that much further study must be done, but that at this time all hypotheses tested have corresponded with this framework.

The caveat when comparing this to humans is that the neocortex modifies subcortical mechanisms. However, the underlying structure may have a common evolutionary basis, or evolved in a similar pattern. Previous studies have shown similar results in chemical receptors being activated in the brain during pair bonding rituals. Additional biological functions such as oxytocin release during a females sexual climax and nipple stimulation argue for this framework.

These studies in laboratory controlled environments seek to create a reductionist inspired model of love. The complexities inherent in stochasticity are respected by psychologists. Thus the study of gene to environmental interactions on the 'nature vs. nurture' argument should be studied further (Shepard, Michopoulos, Toufexis, and Wilson 2009). It is already well-known how environment can effect higher intelligence in humans more so than inherent biology, so might it not be the same as emotional intellect?

Part 2 - Neural correlates of pair-bonding in a monogamous primate

The neural circuit that utilized regions of the reward and social recognition circuits has been identified through previous studies. What is the neurological basis to take these studies to hominids?

Limiting factors include the fact that previous studies were limited to formation rather than maintenance of pair bonding. Furthermore the population of study has been on rodents. It is well-known that prairie voles have numerous reasons to be considered a valid sample study population (Young and Wang 2004). Science cannot stop there. This study has taken this a step further by using the primate, Callicebus cupreus, as the sample population.

The purpose of this study was to identify the brain regions where a variable for glucose uptake exists in males and separate data by the type of social bond. The three groups of bonds were long-term pair bonds, short-term pair bonds, and no bond. A subset of the population of males had brain lesions from a previous study which resulted in a stronger pair bond than males without brain lesions.

The hypothesis is that there would be a difference of glucose uptake in the following regions: nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum, medial preoptic area, medial amygdala, supraoptic nucleus, paraventricular nucleus, lateral septum, and the posterior cingates cortex. Three control regions were identified that were known through previous studies to be unlikely to be part of this circuit being studied. PET and fMRI was used to test this hypothesis through analyzing the images.

MANOVA results showed that glucose uptake was a significant predictor of bonding status, but that hemisphere was not. ANOVA's on each region showed that all regions except the control regions and the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus were in fact significantly different in glucose uptake by bonding status. Thus the results were close, but not exactly in line with the null hypothesis.

Of the three groups, the highest concentration of glucose uptake was in males with short-term pair bonding followed by long-term and then no pair bonding. Of interest was the high variance in short-term pair bonding. This is most likely explained by environmental factors (Lederhendler and Schulkin 2000), such as the time it took for physical intimacy to begin.

The authors of this experimental paper consider this to be an important step in understanding the neurobiology of human pair bonding. The difference between primates and humans is thought to be closer than humans and rodents making this a larger move towards understanding intricacies that might otherwise not be contemplated. For instance the authors suspected cortical areas would be greater influencers of pair bonding for humans than rodents, and indeed found their test results to be consistent with that supposition. That leaves us wondering what the different between primates and humans would be?

Conclusion

The most important take away from reviewing these papers is the understanding that identifying what areas of the brain contain the circuitry behind pair bonding, is the barest conception of a first step in conceptualizing the behavioral neuroscience of pair binding. These studies all have focused on intimacy as the input, and chemical by location as the output. A two step process like this forgets the genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors (Shepard, Michopoulos, Toufexis, and Wilson 2006) that all contribute to the true parameters.

Furthermore, the complexity of the brain has multiple circuits using the same regions. Thus maternal pair bonding and partner pair bonding may affect one another, and cannot be considered to be isolated systems (Gobrogge, Lui, and Wang 2008). A simple understanding of how a neural network operates would indicate that one neural path's weights may change based on the maternal pair bonding circuit, but this would then alter operations of the partner pair bonding circuit. Understanding both circuits is necessary to understand either. This being due to the fact that they likely do share neural pathways.

Humans operate in a world far more complex than any of the test animals. We live in a world full of environmental factors that affect our brain chemistry (Lederhendler and Schulkin 2000). Drug addiction (Curtis, Aragonen, and Wang 2006) and domestic violence both are significant variables that influence pair bonding. The psychological complexity of higher intelligence operating with those variables is not a laboratory friendly exercise. The experimental hurdles needed to overcome obstacles that hinder progress in deciphering these circuits are great. Overcoming this is the next big challenge for behavioral neuroscience.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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