It is extremely difficult to trace the causal pathway relating gene products or molecular pathways to the expression of behavior. This is especially true for social behavior, which being dependent on interactions and communication between individuals is even further removed from molecular-level events. In this review, we discuss how behavioral models can aid molecular analyses of social behavior. Various models of behavior exist, each of which suggest strategies to dissect complex behavior into simpler behavioral 'modules.' The resulting modules are easier to relate to neural processes and thus suggest hypotheses for neural and molecular function. Here we discuss how three different models of behavior have facilitated understanding the molecular bases of aspects of social behavior. We discuss the response threshold model and two different approaches to modeling motivation, the state space model and models of reinforcement and reward processing. The examples we have chosen illustrate how models can generate testable hypotheses for neural and molecular function and also how molecular analyses probe the validity of a model of behavior. We do not champion one model over another; rather, our examples illustrate how modeling and molecular analyses can be synergistic in exploring the molecular bases of social behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Aggression
  • Division of labor
  • Motivation
  • Pair bond
  • Reinforcement
  • Response threshold
  • Sociogenomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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