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Dev Psychobiol. 2007 Jan;49(1):22-32.

Huddling by rat pups: ontogeny of individual and group behavior.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


A full account of behavioral development in rats must include the ontogeny of both individual and group behavior. Most of our accumulated knowledge, however, pertains to individual ontogenesis. Group behavior and its development are readily seen in the huddling behavior of rat pups. A rat huddle is an entity with characteristics and capabilities distinct from those of the individuals that comprise it. The huddle is a natural context for acquiring olfactory preferences for species odors. Olfactory learning in a huddle involves thermal and tactile stimulation from the mother's body but, surprisingly, not the rewards of suckling or of milk transfer. Although there is complete developmental continuity of huddling behavior, the sensory controls of huddling change dramatically during the first 2 weeks of postnatal life. Huddling behavior is initially controlled by thermal cues ("physiological huddling") and then becomes dominated by olfactory stimuli ("filial huddling"). The complex group behavior of huddling was modeled successfully with computational methods. Group behavior emerges from individual interactions, guided entirely by rules of individual behavior (no rules for group behavior). Three simple rules of autonomous activity/inactivity can spawn the patterns of aggregon formation displayed by groups of 7-day-old pups, but not by 10-day-olds. The developmental change evident by Day 10 requires adding a rule by which each individual is affected by the activity state of adjacent pups. Group behavior responded to manipulations of central oxytocin on Day 10, but not on Day 7.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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