Peering into the dynamics of social interactions: measuring play fighting in rats.

play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.

play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.

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