Play in Rats: Association across Contexts and Types, and Analysis of Structure

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
L. Melotti, J. D. Bailoo, E. Murphy, O. Burman, H. Würbel
Animal Behavior and Cognition
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Play has been proposed as a promising indicator of positive animal welfare. We aimed to study play in rats across contexts (conspecific/heterospecific) and types (social: pinning, being pinned; solitary: scampering), and we investigated its structure using behavioral sequence analysis. Group-housed (three per cage) adolescent male Lister Hooded rats (n = 21) were subjected to a Play-In-Pairs test: after a 3 hour isolation period, a pair of cagemates was returned to the home cage and both social and solitary play were scored for 20 min. This procedure was repeated for each pair combination across three consecutive days, and individual play scores were calculated. Heterospecific play was measured using a Tickling test: rats were individually tickled by the experimenter through bouts of gentle, rapid finger movements on their underside, and the number of positive 50 kHz frequency modulated vocalizations and experimenter-directed approach behaviors were recorded. Both of the above tests were compared with social play in the home cage. While conspecific play in both the Play-In-Pairs test and home cage were correlated, both seemed to be unrelated to heterospecific play in the Tickling test. During the Play-In-Pairs test, although both solitary and social play types occurred, they were unrelated, and solitary locomotor play of one rat did not predict the subsequent play behavior of its cage mate. Analysis of play structure revealed that social play occurred more often in bouts of repeated behaviors while solitary play sequences did not follow a specific pattern. If play is to be used as an indicator of positive welfare in rats, context, type and structure differences should be taken into account


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