Fun fact about competing stimuli: Pair-bonding mammals are more susceptible to substance addictions than other mammals – unless they are already settled in a pair bond. Once established, a pair bond can actually reduce the risk of addiction. It makes an artificial competing “high” comparatively less appealing. Thus, in today’s enticement-heavy environment, it makes sense to form and sustain a healthy pair bond.

At the same time, footloose pair bonders who are still fancy-free are vulnerable. They can more easily get hooked on artificial substitutes. If that happens they may ultimately find real relationships comparatively less rewarding. The research below provides examples of the pair-bonding mechanism, its protective gifts, and its vulnerabilities.

Do online erotica, sex toys, dating apps and other artificial stimuli have the potential to interfere with human pair bonds at a neurobiological level? Already dozens of studies correlate the use of such stimuli with reduced sexual and relationship satisfaction. And in 2022 some fascinating research proposed an underlying physiological explanation for the adverse effects of internet porn use on human pair bonds.

Dr. Heike Melzer discusses the issue of competing stimuli in this TEDx talk. Click “CC” to turn on subtitles.

Alterations in oxytocin and vasopressin in men with problematic pornography use: The role of empathy

Pornography and impersonal sex

Nucleus accumbens dopamine mediates amphetamine-induced impairment of social bonding in a monogamous rodent species

Alcohol’s Effects on Pair-Bond Maintenance in Male Prairie Voles

Social Bonding Decreases the Rewarding Properties of Amphetamine through a Dopamine D1 Receptor-Mediated Mechanism

The behavioral anatomical and pharmacological parallels between social attachment love and addiction

Amphetamine reward in the monogamous prairie vole

Dopamine and opioid systems interact within the nucleus accumbens to maintain monogamous pair bonds

Biological Contribution to Social Influences on Alcohol Drinking: Evidence from Animal Models

Influences of social reward experience on behavioral responses to drugs of abuse: Review of shared and divergent neural plasticity mechanisms for sexual reward and drugs of abuse

Pair-bonding animal model for testing and treatment

Prairie Voles as a Model to Screen Medications for the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addictions

Amphetamine effects in microtine rodents: a comparative study using monogamous and promiscuous vole species