Psychology, Department of


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Duque, J.F., Rasmussen, T., Rodriguez, A., & Stevens, J.R. (2020). The role of mesotocin on social bonding in pinyon jays. Ethology, 126, 165–175.


The neuropeptide oxytocin influences mammalian social bonding by facilitating the building and maintenance of parental, sexual, and same‐sex social relationships. However, we do not know whether the function of the avian homologue mesotocin is evolutionarily conserved across birds. While it does influence avian prosocial behavior, mesotocin's role in avian social bonding remains unclear. Here, we investigated whether mesotocin regulates the formation and maintenance of same‐sex social bonding in pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), a member of the crow family. We formed squads of four individually housed birds. In the first, “pair‐formation” phase of the experiment, we repeatedly placed pairs of birds from within the squad together in a cage for short periods of time. Prior to entering the cage, we intranasally administered one of three hormone solutions to both members of the pair: mesotocin, oxytocin antagonist, or saline. Pairs received repeated sessions with administration of the same hormone. In the second, “pair‐maintenance” phase of the experiment, all four members of the squad were placed together in a large cage, and no hormones were administered. For both phases, we measured the physical proximity between pairs as our proxy for social bonding. We found that, compared with saline, administering mesotocin or oxytocin antagonist did not result in different proximities in either the pair‐formation or pair‐maintenance phase of the experiment. Therefore, at the dosages and time frames used here, exogenously introduced mesotocin did not influence same‐sex social bond formation or maintenance. Like oxytocin in mammals, mesotocin regulates avian prosocial behavior; however, unlike oxytocin, we do not have evidence that mesotocin regulates social bonds in birds.

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duque_etal_2020_rcode.R (39 kB)
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