What do rats find rewarding in play fighting? – an analysis using drug-induced non-playful partners

play fighting by juvenile rats involves playful attacks directed at the partner’s nape, where successful contact leads to gentle rubbing of the snout into the nape area. In addition, the recipient of such contact may defend the nape by adoping tactics of playful defense. The two most common defensive tactics in the juvenile period are evasion, where the recipient swerves or leaps away and facing defense involving rotation to supine, where the attacker is faced and its further attempts to contact the nape are blocked. An unresolved issue is whether the nape contact itself or defense by the recipient alone or in combination with nape contact, are involved in rewarding play fighting. In this study, drug-induced non-playful partners were used to test the ‘motivation’ for play fighting when only playful nape contact was possible. In drug-trials compared to baseline and saline trials, both neonatally androgenized females (high players) and control, oil-treated, females (low players), decreased the frequency of launching nape attacks. These results suggest that nape contact alone, in the absence of defense by the recipient, is not sufficient reinforcement for such playful activity, irrespective of the initial playfulness of the subjects. However, while nape attacks decrease, other forms of social contact, such as anogenital investigation and climbing over the partner (i.e., crawl overs), increase in frequency. These results suggest that non-playful partners are not neutral targets for normal rats. Rather, the ‘non-normal’ behavior of the drugged target may affect the subjects’ behavior in such a way as to reduce their playfulness for reasons other than reduced reinforcement for play. © 1995.

play fighting by juvenile rats involves playful attacks directed at the partner’s nape, where successful contact leads to gentle rubbing of the snout into the nape area. In addition, the recipient of such contact may defend the nape by adoping tactics of playful defense. The two most common defensive tactics in the juvenile period are evasion, where the recipient swerves or leaps away and facing defense involving rotation to supine, where the attacker is faced and its further attempts to contact the nape are blocked. An unresolved issue is whether the nape contact itself or defense by the recipient alone or in combination with nape contact, are involved in rewarding play fighting. In this study, drug-induced non-playful partners were used to test the ‘motivation’ for play fighting when only playful nape contact was possible. In drug-trials compared to baseline and saline trials, both neonatally androgenized females (high players) and control, oil-treated, females (low players), decreased the frequency of launching nape attacks. These results suggest that nape contact alone, in the absence of defense by the recipient, is not sufficient reinforcement for such playful activity, irrespective of the initial playfulness of the subjects. However, while nape attacks decrease, other forms of social contact, such as anogenital investigation and climbing over the partner (i.e., crawl overs), increase in frequency. These results suggest that non-playful partners are not neutral targets for normal rats. Rather, the ‘non-normal’ behavior of the drugged target may affect the subjects’ behavior in such a way as to reduce their playfulness for reasons other than reduced reinforcement for play. © 1995.

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