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Behavioral characteristics of pair bonding in the black tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix penicillata)

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The present study describes how the development of a pair bond modifies social, sexual and aggressive behavior. Five heterosexual pairs of marmosets, previously unknown to each other, were formed at the beginning of the study. At the onset of pairing, social, sexual, exploratory and aggressive behaviors were recorded for 40 min. The animals were then observed for 20 min, both in the morning and afternoon for 21 days. The frequency and/or duration of behaviors recorded on Day 1 were compared to those recorded at later observations. The behavior displayed shortly after pairing should be completely unaffected by the pair bond, while such a bond should be present at later observations. Thus, it was possible to determine how the behavior between the pair was modified by the development of a pair bond. Social behaviors increased from Day 1 to Days 2-6 and all subsequent days observed. Conversely, other behaviors, such as open mouth displays (usually considered to be an invitation to sexual activity), had a high frequency during the early part of cohabitation but declined towards the end. Consequently, pair bonding manifests itself in an increased intensity of social behaviors. It is suggested that the intrinsically rewarding properties of grooming and perhaps other social behaviors turn the pair mate into a positive incentive, activating approach and further interactions when possible. Thus, the pair bond may be a motivational state activated by the conditioned incentive properties of the partner. This notion can explain all forms of pair bonds, including those occurring between individuals of the same sex and in promiscuous species.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway; 2: Department of Psychology and Program in Neuroscience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA; 3: Department of Psychology and Callitrichid Research Facility, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, NE, USA


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