Are 50-khz calls used as play signals in the playful interactions of rats? III. The effects of devocalization on play with unfamiliar partners as juveniles and as adults

When playing, rats emit 50-kHz calls which may function as play signals. A previous study using devocalized rats provides support for the hypothesis that 50-kHz function to promote and maintain playful interactions (Kisko et al., 2015). However, in that study, all pairs were cage mates and familiar with each other’s playful tendencies that could have attenuated the role of play signals. The present study uses unfamiliar pairs to eliminate any chance for such attenuation. Four hypotheses about how 50-kHz calls could act as play signals were tested, that (1) they maintain the playful mood of the partner, (2) they are used to locate partners, (3) they attract play partners and (4) they reduce the risk of playful encounters from escalating to serious fights. Predictions arising from the first three hypotheses, tested in juveniles, were not supported, suggesting that, for juveniles, 50-kHz calls are not facilitating playful interactions as play signals. The fourth hypothesis, however, was supported in adults, but not in juveniles, in that unfamiliar adult males were more likely to escalate playful encounters into serious fights when one partner was devocalized. These findings suggest that vocalizations at most have a minor role in juvenile play but serve a more central role in modulating adult interactions between strangers, allowing for the tactical mitigation of the risk of aggression. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.

When playing, rats emit 50-kHz calls which may function as play signals. A previous study using devocalized rats provides support for the hypothesis that 50-kHz function to promote and maintain playful interactions (Kisko et al., 2015). However, in that study, all pairs were cage mates and familiar with each other’s playful tendencies that could have attenuated the role of play signals. The present study uses unfamiliar pairs to eliminate any chance for such attenuation. Four hypotheses about how 50-kHz calls could act as play signals were tested, that (1) they maintain the playful mood of the partner, (2) they are used to locate partners, (3) they attract play partners and (4) they reduce the risk of playful encounters from escalating to serious fights. Predictions arising from the first three hypotheses, tested in juveniles, were not supported, suggesting that, for juveniles, 50-kHz calls are not facilitating playful interactions as play signals. The fourth hypothesis, however, was supported in adults, but not in juveniles, in that unfamiliar adult males were more likely to escalate playful encounters into serious fights when one partner was devocalized. These findings suggest that vocalizations at most have a minor role in juvenile play but serve a more central role in modulating adult interactions between strangers, allowing for the tactical mitigation of the risk of aggression. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.

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