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Neurbiology of Male Friendships

Neurbiology of Male Friendships

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Published by Stephen Armstrong

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Published by: Stephen Armstrong on May 12, 2012
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Bearing in mind that this is still in its infancy, broadly speaking the systems involved in friendship and bonding

are the oxytocin, vasosuppression and opiod systems. As parents, we all heard of oxytocin round the birth of children. expansion of the affectional system deployed in mother-infant bonding to incorporate other contexts of social-affiliative relationships a variety of clinical studies have implicated opioids in autism (Bouvard et al., 1995). Treatment with naltrexone produces some clinical benefits and alters biochemical profiles in a subset of autistic children. More recent studies also have begun to explore the role of oxytocin in autism (Insel, 1997). Studies in autistic adults suggest that deficits in oxytocin may be correlated with some symptoms of autism (Modahl et al., 1998), and there is a report that increased gregariousness may follow oxytocin treatments. I like the opiod system theory – experiments on mammals suggest that friendship and love activate the receptor sites in the brain that opiates like morphine and heroin lock into. It‟s possible that this explains the pain of heartbreak – going cold turkey from smack and having your true love walk out on you seem to be triggering the same part of the brain. In primates, monkeys and apes, male group relationships seem to trigger the opiod system in a slightly different way. Broadly, and lots of this is to do with male status in the group and male-on-male aggression, males who are happy and high status form good bonds with the group and get an opiod reward trigger. Lower status males on the receiving end of aggression tend to feel less affiliated to the group, have lower levels of testosterone (to do with an opiod/sexual system interactions) and – as the review paper puts it: “If the endogenous opioids serve as the "glue" for social cohesion, then the attraction of life in the social group for subordinate males is lost, and this may further explain why it is mainly males of low rank that are more likely to leave their natal group in the wild.” Basically, if males primates operated alone, this would be the entirety of their experience – if you‟re low status, you stay low status. The failure to get rewards depresses testosterone, you stay on the outside unless you shut up and submit.

says Dr.” Social support has documented health benefits. Oliver Schülke and Prof. or never managed to move up at all. they groom areas that an individual could groom himself. where a group of males might fight another male to improve rank and social status. Dr.” says Schülke. The researchers have now demonstrated for the first time that the strength of a male‟s social bonds with other generally unrelated macaques of the same sex has an impact on its social rise and. a direct connection exists between male bonds and social success. an evolutionary biologist at the University of Göttingen – find that “every male in the group has a few other males he interacts with more than others. Together with researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. males that did not invest in friendships have steadily lost ground in the status stakes. Often. Scientists from Göttingen and Leipzig have discovered that among macaques. Researchers – including Oliver Schülke. The male that maintained the closest three bonds within the group in autumn 2006 steadily rose in status and today holds sway at the top of the hierarchy together with its best friend‟.” Males groom friendly males bodies frequently. and the absence of positive social interactions or social bonds typically is associated with both physical and mental illness (Reite . “The interesting thing is that these coalitions can help pull up lowranking individuals and help high-ranking males stay where they are. Schülke. “The hygiene aspect was only one part of it.However…. ultimately. he has found. the number of his progeny. “Both things are going on at the same time.” The bonds can lead to the forming of coalitions. Recent studies on various ape and monkey males show something to counter this depressingly eternal position in the social ranking hierarchy. Julia Ostner of Göttingen University‟s Courant Research Centre „Evolution of Social Behaviour‟ have spent several years looking at the evolution of social relationships among Assamese macaques in Thailand. At the same time.” says Schülke. “The grooming seems to work to foster these bonds. „The closer a male‟s relationships to other males the more frequently he is successful in forming coalitions against other males.

Brotherly love Fraternity also played an important role in chimpanzee friendships. including every individual he interacted with. 1994. and generally chumming around. says John Mitani. Animals that shared a mother were more likely to form lasting bonds than other pairs. the strongest bonds seemed to be based on mutual respect. . Mitani says. chimpanzees with a common father weren't any more likely to become buddies. is about three times the size of other chimpanzee populations in Africa.. he says. anxiety. A decade-long study shows that nearly all adult male chimps form enduring social bonds with other males. sharing meat. However. Forced social separations or the absence of social attachments can trigger stress. a primatologist at the University of Michigan. fear and even depression (Sachser et al. exchanging back scratches. Out of 35 males. Chimpanzees that groomed each other for roughly equal amounts of times tended to stay friends longer. two never formed close friendships with other adults during the study period. 1998). The colony. Mitani notes. both found friendship in a younger. Everyone needs a best friend. 1994. Ryff and Singer. Sperling and Berman. and some had multiple "best friends". On average these bonds lasted seven years. However.and Boccia. Females tend to leave their colony once they reach maturity and therefore forge fewer social bonds. Knox and Uvnas-Moberg. still adolescent brother. 1998). but is no more social than others. Mitani spent a block of time recording the interactions of a specific adult male chimp. Nearly every chimpanzee that Mitani tracked formed at least one long-term social bond. For the study. in the jungles of Kibale National Park. 1998. while noting grooming behaviour. Henry and Wang. who observed chimpanzees in Uganda several months a year for 10 years. even chimpanzees. 1998. Mitani found. As with human friendship.

Mitani says. It could be that having a best friend boosts reproductive success or survival somehow. "These similarities suggest that there are common principles for building strong bonds which extend across species. a primatologist at the University of California in Los Angeles. notes that chimp friendships aren't so different from the baboon she studies.Exactly why chimpanzees form these stable bonds is unknown. and counting up the babies. Joan Silk. But this will require "staying out there to see who does what with whom." . she says." he says. Equitable grooming and sisterhood seemed to determine friendships among female baboons in Botswana. and how often.

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