Positive social interactions are essential for emotional well-being, healthy development, establishment and maintenance of adequate social structures and reproductive success of humans and animals. Here, we review the studies that have investigated whether forms of social interaction that occur in different phases of the lifespan of animals, i.e., maternal behavior, social play and sexual interaction are rewarding in rodents and non-human primates. We show that these three forms of social interaction can be used as incentive for place conditioning, lever pressing and maze learning, three setups that have been extensively used to study the rewarding properties of food and drugs of abuse and their neural underpinnings. The experience of positive social interactions during key developmental ages has profound and long-lasting effects on brain function and behavior in emotional, motivational and cognitive domains. For instance, pup interaction is more rewarding than cocaine for early postpartum dams and rats deprived of the opportunity to play during adolescence show social and cognitive impairments at adulthood. Furthermore, sexual behavior is only overtly rewarding when animals can control the rate at which the sexual interaction occurs. Last, we discuss how animal models contributed to our understanding of social reward mechanisms and its psychological components throughout development.
TREZZA V, CAMPOLONGO P, & VANDERSCHUREN L.J.M.J (2011). Evaluating the rewarding nature of social interactions in laboratory animals. DEVELOPMENTAL COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE, 1, 444-458 [10.1016/j.dcn.2011.05.007].