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. (c) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.