Arginine vasopressin influences male reproductive and social behaviours in several vertebrate taxa through its actions at the V1a receptor in the brain. The neuroanatomical distribution of vasopressin V1a receptors varies greatly between species with different forms of social organization. Here we show that centrally administered arginine vasopressin increases affiliative behaviour in the highly social, monogamous prairie vole, but not in the relatively asocial, promiscuous montane vole. Molecular analyses indicate that gene duplication and/or changes in promoter structure of the prairie vole receptor gene may contribute to the species differences in vasopressin-receptor expression. We further show that mice that are transgenic for the prairie vole receptor gene have a neuroanatomical pattern of receptor binding that is similar to that of the prairie vole, and exhibit increased affiliative behaviour after injection with arginine vasopressin. These data indicate that the pattern of V1a-receptor gene expression in the brain may be functionally associated with species-typical social behaviours in male vertebrates.