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Genes, Brain and Behavior


The rewarding properties of social interactions facilitate relationship formation and maintenance. Prairie voles are one of the few laboratory species that form selective relationships, manifested as “partner preferences” for familiar partners versus strangers. While both sexes exhibit strong partner preferences, this similarity in outward behavior likely results from sex-specific neurobiological mechanisms. We recently demonstrated that in operant trials, females worked hardest for access to familiar conspecifics of either sex, while males worked equally hard for access to any female, indicating a sex difference in social motivation. As tests were performed with one social target at a time, males might have experienced a ceiling effect, and familiar females might be more relatively rewarding in a choice scenario. Here we performed an operant social choice task in which voles lever-pressed to gain temporary access to either the chamber containing their mate or one containing a novel opposite-sex vole. Females worked hardest to access their mate, while males pressed at similar rates for either female. Individual male behavior was heterogeneous, congruent with multiple mating strategies in the wild. Voles exhibited preferences for favorable over unfavorable environments in a non-social operant task, indicating that lack of social preference does not reflect lack of discrimination. Natural variation in oxytocin receptor genotype at the intronic single nucleotide polymorphism NT213739 was associated with oxytocin receptor density, and predicted individual variation in stranger-directed aggressive behavior. These findings suggest that convergent preference behavior in male and female voles results from sex-divergent pathways, particularly in the realm of social motivation.


operant conditioning, Oxtr, partner preference, prairie vole, sex differences, social motivation, social reward









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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


© 2022 The Authors. Genes, Brain and Behavior published by International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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