The pleasures of play: pharmacological insights into social reward mechanisms

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2010 Oct;31(10):463-9. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2010 Aug 3.


Like human children, most young mammals devote a significant amount of time and energy playing together, and social play is fun. Although social play is very pleasurable, it is more than just a frivolous activity: it is crucial for the development of behavioral flexibility, the acquisition of social and cognitive competence, and the maintenance of group cohesion. Social play is a natural reinforcer, and the neurotransmitter systems intimately implicated in the motivational, pleasurable and cognitive aspects of natural and drug rewards, such as opioids, endocannabinoids, dopamine and norepinephrine, play an important modulatory role in the performance of social play. In this review, we address the notion that social play is rewarding, and discuss recent developments in the neuropharmacology of this behavior. This provides a framework to understand how the brain processes social emotions, to make young individuals enjoy social play.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Play and Playthings / psychology
  • Reward*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents