Early social experience has profound effects on a wide spectrum of behaviors and neurochemical correlates in the rat. Repeated separation of rat pups from their dam during the early neonatal period causes acute perturbation of neuroendocrine and physiological status. The chronic sequelae of repeated separations have not been studied as extensively as the acute responses. Altered social experience at a later developmental stage, postweaning isolation rearing, is known to induce enduring changes in the behavioral responses to reward and reward-related stimuli in maturity. We have evaluated the influence of repeated early maternal separation on the responses to both primary and conditioned incentives in mature rats. Separated animals showed enhanced weight gain, a blunted locomotor response to a novel environment and a blunting of the response to both negative and positive contrast effects. Female separated animals, but not males, exhibited a profound attenuation of the acquisition of a conditioned anticipatory locomotor response to the presentation of food. These data are discussed with respect to the putative involvement of ventral striatal dopamine systems in reward mechanisms and the potential utility of early maternal separation as an animal model of depression.