Anticipation of play elicits high-frequency ultrasonic vocalizations in young rats.

The authors provide initial documentation that juvenile rats emit short, high-frequency ultrasonic vocalizations (high USVs, ?55 kHz) during rough-and-tumble play. In an observational study, they further observe that these vocalizations both correlate with and predict appetitive components of the play behavioral repertoire. Additional experiments characterized eliciting conditions for high USVs. Without prior play exposure, rats separated by a screen vocalized less than playing rats, but after only 1 play session, separated rats vocalized more than playing rats. This finding suggested that high USVs were linked to a motivational state rather than specific play behaviors or general activity. Furthermore, individual rats vocalized more in a chamber associated with play than in a habituated control chamber. Finally, congruent and incongruent motivational manipulations modulated vocalization expression. Although play deprivation enhanced high USVs, an arousing but aversive stimulus (bright light) reduced them. Taken together, these findings suggest that high USVs may index an appetitive motivation to play in juvenile rats.

The authors provide initial documentation that juvenile rats emit short, high-frequency ultrasonic vocalizations (high USVs, ?55 kHz) during rough-and-tumble play. In an observational study, they further observe that these vocalizations both correlate with and predict appetitive components of the play behavioral repertoire. Additional experiments characterized eliciting conditions for high USVs. Without prior play exposure, rats separated by a screen vocalized less than playing rats, but after only 1 play session, separated rats vocalized more than playing rats. This finding suggested that high USVs were linked to a motivational state rather than specific play behaviors or general activity. Furthermore, individual rats vocalized more in a chamber associated with play than in a habituated control chamber. Finally, congruent and incongruent motivational manipulations modulated vocalization expression. Although play deprivation enhanced high USVs, an arousing but aversive stimulus (bright light) reduced them. Taken together, these findings suggest that high USVs may index an appetitive motivation to play in juvenile rats.

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