The influence of natural variations in maternal care on play fighting in the rat

Dev Psychobiol. 2008 Dec;50(8):767-76. doi: 10.1002/dev.20342.


Naturally occurring variations in maternal care in the rat influence the sensitivity of offspring to stress in adulthood. The offspring of mothers that show lower levels of pup licking/grooming (i.e., low-LG mothers) demonstrate enhanced responses to stress and increased anxiety compared to those of high-LG mothers. Low-LG offspring are also more sensitive to the influence of environmental enrichment than high-LG offspring. This study examined play fighting in the juvenile offspring of high-LG and low-LG dams in a multiple-play partners housing environment. Male offspring from low-LG dams demonstrated a significantly higher frequency of pouncing, pinning and aggressive social grooming than did high-LG males and high-LG and low-LG females. Consistent with earlier reports, male pups engaged in more play fighting than did females and maternal care was associated with differences in play fighting but only in males. Lower levels of stimulation in the form of LG from the dam during perinatal development may thus increase sensitivity for the stimulating effects of play behavior in periadolescence, in part explaining the increased solicitation of play fighting through increased pouncing in the male offspring of the low-LG mothers. These findings identify a possible influence of variations in maternal care on play fighting and suggest that maternal care in the perinatal period influence social interactions during periadolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology
  • Agonistic Behavior*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Arousal
  • Female
  • Grooming
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment