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Keywords:

  • primate;
  • brain;
  • evolution;
  • striatum;
  • social play;
  • independent contrasts

Abstract

The striatum is a region of the brain specifically tied to the experience and anticipation of pleasure, reward, appropriate behavioral sequencing, cognition, learning, and social modulation. Furthermore, the striatum is connected neurologically and functionally to other brain regions associated with the exhibition of social play, such as the neocortex, cerebellum, and limbic system. For these reasons, the striatum is especially interesting to researchers of play behavior. Moreover, the caudate–putamen area of the striatum has been specifically implicated in laboratory studies of social play behavior. This study uses the phylogenetic comparative method of independent contrasts to test for an evolutionary relationship between striatum volume and a measure of social play in nonhuman primates. Relative volume of the primate striatum correlates with rate of social, but not nonsocial, play behavior across species, suggesting a coevolution of traits. The pleasurable and procedural aspects of social play behavior may be mediated in part by the striatum and further to its connection to dopaminergic pathways in the primate brain. Am. J. Primatol. 73:314–322, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.