Differential rates of attack, defense, and counterattack during the developmental decrease in play fighting by male and female rats

Dev Psychobiol. 1990 Apr;23(3):215-31. doi: 10.1002/dev.420230303.


During postweaning development, rats exhibit several well documented trends in their play fighting: (1) It peaks between 30-40 days and then declines with the approach of sexual maturity; (2) males initiate more play fights than females; and (3) the overall complexity of play fights, as expressed by such measures as duration of bouts, also decreases with increasing age. Such trends could arise from changes in attack or defense, or some combination of both. In this article it is shown that (a) the decline in play fighting with the onset of sexual maturity in rats results from a decline in attack, not in defense; (b) the differences in play fighting by male and female rats are due to sex-specific rates of both attack and defense; and (c) the developmental decrease in the complexity of play fighting arises from a decrease in the frequency of counterattacks (i.e., after an animal defends itself, it is less likely to launch an attack). In this way, age and sex differences in play fighting can be traced to differences in its subcomponents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression* / psychology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Agonistic Behavior*
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sex Factors