The neurobiology of social behaviour is interwoven with autonomic, endocrine and other homoeostatic processes responsible for the adaptive functions of reproduction and survival. Young mammals are dependent on their mothers for nourishment, and the interaction between the mother and infant may be a physiological and neuroendocrine prototype for mammalian sociality. Although these adaptive functions of the mother-infant social behavioural dyad are obvious, adult social interactions, including social bonds, also are important to health and survival. Two neuropeptides, oxytocin (OXT) and arginine vasopressin (AVP), have been repeatedly implicated in mammalian social behaviours and emotional states that support sociality. Although best known for their roles in reproduction and homoeostasis, these peptides play a central role in the activation and expression of social behaviours and emotional states. Recent studies from our work with the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), reviewed here, reveal a role for both OXT and AVP in behavioural and endocrine changes during social interactions, and also changes that are associated with the absence of social interactions (i.e. social isolation).