Studying Socio-Affective Communication in Rats through Playback of Ultrasonic Vocalizations

Curr Protoc Neurosci. 2016 Apr 8;75:8.35.1-8.35.17. doi: 10.1002/cpns.7.


Rats are able to produce ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs). Such USVs are an important component of the rat social behavior repertoire and serve distinct communicative functions as socio-affective signals. Depending on the emotional valence of the situation, juvenile and adult rats utter (1) aversive 22-kHz USVs conveying an appeasing and/or alarming function; or (2) appetitive 50-kHz USVs, which act as social contact calls, amongst others. A 50-kHz USV radial maze playback paradigm that allows assessment of the behavioral responses displayed by the recipients in a highly standardized manner has been developed. In this newly developed paradigm, a rat is exposed individually to playback of natural 50-kHz USVs and appropriate acoustic control stimuli using an acoustic presentation system for ultrasound. By this means, it has been consistently shown that 50-kHz USVs lead to social approach behavior in the recipient, supporting the notion that they serve an affiliative function as social contact calls.

Keywords: alarm call; contact call; playback; social behavior; social motivation; ultrasonic communication; ultrasonic vocalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Rats
  • Social Behavior*
  • Ultrasonics*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*