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Keywords:

  • friendship;
  • cognition;
  • ethology;
  • social networks;
  • evolution

Friendship pervades the human social landscape. These bonds are so important that disrupting them leads to health problems, and difficulties forming or maintaining friendships attend neuropsychiatric disorders like autism and depression. Other animals also have friends, suggesting that friendship is not solely a human invention but is instead an evolved trait. A neuroethological approach applies behavioral, neurobiological, and molecular techniques to explain friendship with reference to its underlying mechanisms, development, evolutionary origins, and biological function. Recent studies implicate a shared suite of neural circuits and neuromodulatory pathways in the formation, maintenance, and manipulation of friendships across humans and other animals. Health consequences and reproductive advantages in mammals additionally suggest that friendship has adaptive benefits. We argue that understanding the neuroethology of friendship in humans and other animals brings us closer to knowing fully what it means to be human.