Behavioral and Brain Sciences

a neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation

richard a. depue a1 and jeannine v. morrone-strupinsky a1
a1 laboratory of neurobiology of temperament and personality, department of human development, cornell university, ithaca, ny 14853


because little is known about the human trait of affiliation, we provide a novel neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding. discussion is organized around processes of reward and memory formation that occur during approach and consummatory phases of affiliation. appetitive and consummatory reward processes are mediated independently by the activity of the ventral tegmental area (vta) dopamine (da)–nucleus accumbens shell (nas) pathway and the central corticolimbic projections of the u-opiate system of the medial basal arcuate nucleus, respectively, although these two projection systems functionally interact across time. we next explicate the manner in which da and glutamate interact in both the vta and nas to form incentive-encoded contextual memory ensembles that are predictive of reward derived from affiliative objects. affiliative stimuli, in particular, are incorporated within contextual ensembles predictive of affiliative reward via: (a) the binding of affiliative stimuli in the rostral circuit of the medial extended amygdala and subsequent transmission to the nas shell; (b) affiliative stimulus-induced opiate potentiation of da processes in the vta and nas; and (c) permissive or facilitatory effects of gonadal steroids, oxytocin (in interaction with da), and vasopressin on (i) sensory, perceptual, and attentional processing of affiliative stimuli and (ii) formation of social memories. among these various processes, we propose that the capacity to experience affiliative reward via opiate functioning has a disproportionate weight in determining individual differences in affiliation. we delineate sources of these individual differences, and provide the first human data that support an association between opiate functioning and variation in trait affiliation.

Key Words: affiliation corticolimbic-striatal networks; appetitive and consummatory reward; dopamine; oxytocin; personality; social bonds; social memory; u-opiates.