Intrinsic and extrinsic influences on play fighting in rats: effects of dominance, partner’s playfulness, temperament and neonatal exposure to testosterone propionate

play fighting is a frequent activity of juvenile rats and appears to show marked variability amongst individuals in that some rats play a great deal and others very little. This study attempted to identify some of the factors involved in producing this individual variability. The major influence over an individual’s frequency of play as a juvenile was found to be the frequency of play by the partner. That is, play appears to be contagious, in that a high playing animal stimulates its partner to play frequently as well. In male juveniles, but seemingly not in female juveniles, the subsequent adult status of one partner as dominant influences the subordinate-to-be, to initiate more playful contacts. In addition to these extrinsic influences, however, there appear to be intrinsic factors that influence whether an individual is a high or low playing animal. One intrinsic factor appears to be ‘boldness’, so that bolder animals tend to initiate more playful contacts. Higher players tend to be more susceptible to the stereotypy-inducing effects of the dopamine agonist, apomorphine, and tend to be more dependent upon, the playful activity of the partner to maintain their own high levels of play. Both of these characteristics are consistent with other studies comparing bold and timid rats. Boldness, however, only seems to influence how much play a rat will exhibit, not how much play it is capable of exhibiting. Neonatal testosterone augmentation increases juvenile play fighting but not apomorphine susceptibility, suggesting that a high player need not be a bold animal. The total frequency of play an individual is capable of initiating appears to depend upon perinatal exposure to androgens. Boldness and the playfulness of the partner appear to modulate the expression of this hormonally set value. © 1992 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. All Rights Reserved.

play fighting is a frequent activity of juvenile rats and appears to show marked variability amongst individuals in that some rats play a great deal and others very little. This study attempted to identify some of the factors involved in producing this individual variability. The major influence over an individual’s frequency of play as a juvenile was found to be the frequency of play by the partner. That is, play appears to be contagious, in that a high playing animal stimulates its partner to play frequently as well. In male juveniles, but seemingly not in female juveniles, the subsequent adult status of one partner as dominant influences the subordinate-to-be, to initiate more playful contacts. In addition to these extrinsic influences, however, there appear to be intrinsic factors that influence whether an individual is a high or low playing animal. One intrinsic factor appears to be ‘boldness’, so that bolder animals tend to initiate more playful contacts. Higher players tend to be more susceptible to the stereotypy-inducing effects of the dopamine agonist, apomorphine, and tend to be more dependent upon, the playful activity of the partner to maintain their own high levels of play. Both of these characteristics are consistent with other studies comparing bold and timid rats. Boldness, however, only seems to influence how much play a rat will exhibit, not how much play it is capable of exhibiting. Neonatal testosterone augmentation increases juvenile play fighting but not apomorphine susceptibility, suggesting that a high player need not be a bold animal. The total frequency of play an individual is capable of initiating appears to depend upon perinatal exposure to androgens. Boldness and the playfulness of the partner appear to modulate the expression of this hormonally set value. © 1992 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. All Rights Reserved.

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