Dominance and age-related changes in the play fighting of intact and post-weaning castrated male rats (Rattus norvegicus)

The play fighting behaviour of male rats (Rattus norvegicus) castrated at weaning was compared to that of intact controls during the juvenile and post-pubertal phases of development. Following puberty, both the castrated and intact animals exhibited an age-related change in their play fighting; the frequency of initiating play fighting decreased and juvenile patterns of playful defense were replaced by more adult-like patterns. As these changes occurred even in the absence of the pubertal surge of gonadal hormones, they were more likely to result from the organizational effects of gonadal hormones in the perinatal period than the activational effects of these hormones at puberty. Although the castrated animals exhibited the age-related changes in behaviour, they did not exhibit the asymmetries in play associated with dominance relationships. As demonstrated in previous studies, in pairs of intact rats, the animal that attacks the most and uses more juvenile defenses during play fighting and weighs the least is typically the subordinate. In the castrates, asymmetries in weight and playful defense are not related to play frequency, indicating the absence of a dominance relationship. Although the characteristic changes in male play fighting at puberty are independent of the activational effects of gonadal hormones, dominance relationships and their associated changes in play fighting are dependent on these hormones. Therefore, in the perinatal period gonadal hormones most likely organize the age-related changes in play behaviour, whereas post-pubertally gonadal hormones activate dominance relationships and thus, indirectly modify play fighting by affecting dominance-associated assymetries in behaviour. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

The play fighting behaviour of male rats (Rattus norvegicus) castrated at weaning was compared to that of intact controls during the juvenile and post-pubertal phases of development. Following puberty, both the castrated and intact animals exhibited an age-related change in their play fighting; the frequency of initiating play fighting decreased and juvenile patterns of playful defense were replaced by more adult-like patterns. As these changes occurred even in the absence of the pubertal surge of gonadal hormones, they were more likely to result from the organizational effects of gonadal hormones in the perinatal period than the activational effects of these hormones at puberty. Although the castrated animals exhibited the age-related changes in behaviour, they did not exhibit the asymmetries in play associated with dominance relationships. As demonstrated in previous studies, in pairs of intact rats, the animal that attacks the most and uses more juvenile defenses during play fighting and weighs the least is typically the subordinate. In the castrates, asymmetries in weight and playful defense are not related to play frequency, indicating the absence of a dominance relationship. Although the characteristic changes in male play fighting at puberty are independent of the activational effects of gonadal hormones, dominance relationships and their associated changes in play fighting are dependent on these hormones. Therefore, in the perinatal period gonadal hormones most likely organize the age-related changes in play behaviour, whereas post-pubertally gonadal hormones activate dominance relationships and thus, indirectly modify play fighting by affecting dominance-associated assymetries in behaviour. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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