Social neuroscience is rapidly exploring the complex territory between perception
and action where recognition, value, and meaning are instantiated. This review follows
the trail of research on oxytocin and vasopressin as an exemplar of one path for exploring
the "dark matter" of social neuroscience. Studies across vertebrate species suggest
that these neuropeptides are important for social cognition, with gender- and steroid-dependent
effects. Comparative research in voles yields a model based on interspecies and intraspecies
variation of the geography of oxytocin receptors and vasopressin V1a receptors in
the forebrain. Highly affiliative species have receptors in brain circuits related
to reward or reinforcement. The neuroanatomical distribution of these receptors may
be guided by variations in the regulatory regions of their respective genes. This
review describes the promises and problems of extrapolating these findings to human
social cognition, with specific reference to the social deficits of autism.
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