E&E Seminar: Is love just a chemical attraction? Pair bonding in primates and lizards

Social interactions regulate our behavior and physiology, and connections between social well-being and health may be one reason why individuals who are happy with their relationships live longer. A pair bond is a selective, enduring, relationship maintained outside of mating that is regulated by physiology and behavior. Despite the importance of social bonds for well-being, little is known about their underlying neurobiology. In this seminar, I will share discoveries I made studying the neurobiology of social bonds in a monogamous South American monkey, the coppery titi monkey (Plecturocebus cupreus). I will explore how variability in father-daughter relationship quality and manipulations of neuropeptides impact juvenile attachment. I will then examine the long-lasting effects of father-daughter relationship quality on the neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying adult pair bonds. Finally, to address whether similar neurobiological mechanisms underly pair bonding across vertebrate taxa, I will discuss my current work investigating the roles of neuropeptides in pair bonding in socially monogamous Australian sleepy lizards (Tiliqua rugosa).


I have always been curious about our drive to form strong social bonds with others. As a child growing up in the United States, I bred bearded dragons and recorded their social interactions in a journal. As an undergraduate at Davidson College, I worked in a herpetology lab, and fell in love with every part of the research process. While studying wildlife ecology in Kenya, I became fascinated by species that exhibited pair bonding, like jackals and dik-diks, and wanted to know more about the mechanisms driving selective social bonds. After graduating, I worked in two different labs, exploring social behavior in frogs and rhesus macaques. I began my PhD program at the University of California, Davis in 2015 studying the neurobiology of pair bonding in titi monkeys (Plecturocebus cupreus). My graduate experience confirmed that I want to spend the rest of my career investigating the mechanisms driving selective social bonds. As a Fulbright postdoctoral scholar, I am now investigating the neurobiology of pair bonding in sleepy lizards (Tiliqua rugosa). This work will provide insight into potential shared mechanisms underlying sociality across vertebrate taxa and aims to bring us closer to understanding the evolutionary origins of pair bonds.