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J Comp Psychol. 2014 Feb;128(1):56-64. doi: 10.1037/a0034778. Epub 2013 Nov 4.

Rodent ultrasonic communication: Male prosocial 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations elicit social approach behavior in female rats (Rattus norvegicus).

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Behavioral Neuroscience, Experimental and Biological Psychology, Philipps-University of Marburg.


Rats emit distinct types of ultrasonic vocalizations (USV), which serve as situation-dependent affective signals with important communicative functions. Low-frequency 22-kHz USV typically occur in aversive situations, such as social defeat, whereas high-frequency 50-kHz USV can be observed in appetitive situations, like rough-and-tumble-play in juveniles or mating in adults. The 2 main USV types serve distinct communicative functions and induce call-specific behavioral responses in the receiver. While 22-kHz USV probably serve as alarm calls, 50-kHz USV appear to serve a prosocial communicative function in the sexual and the nonsexual context. In the sexual context, however, this view has recently been challenged by playback studies where only very limited behavioral changes were observed in response to prosocial 50-kHz USV. The aim of the present study was therefore to test whether female rats display social approach behavior in response to male prosocial 50-kHz USV by means of our established playback paradigm. To this aim, we exposed female rats to playback of the following 2 acoustic stimuli: (a) natural male 50-kHz USV and (b) time- and amplitude-matched white noise, with the latter serving as acoustic control for novelty-induced changes in behavior not linked to the communicative function of male prosocial 50-kHz USV. Our present findings show that female rats display high levels of social approach behavior in response to male prosocial 50-kHz USV, but not time- and amplitude-matched white noise, supporting the conclusion that male prosocial 50-kHz USV are likely to play an important role in establishing social proximity and possibly regulate mating behavior.

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