Behavioral responses to physical vs. social novelty in male and female laboratory rats

Sonia A. Cavigelli, Kerry C. Michael, Sheila G. West, Laura Cousino Klein

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21 Scopus citations


Most behavioral tests used with laboratory rodents involve measuring behavioral responses to physical novelty. However, laboratory rodents are often derived from highly social species for which novel social stimuli may induce different levels of fear or curiosity compared to novel physical objects. We hypothesized that behavioral responses will differ in response to novel physical vs. social cues, and that females may show more exploration of social novelty, based on prior studies indicating that females more actively seek social support during duress compared to males. We compared young (55-day-old) Sprague-Dawley rats' responses to an arena filled with novel objects (" physical" ) or a novel same-sex caged conspecific (" social" ). Rats were more active and spent twice as much time in contact with the novel social stimulus compared to novel physical stimuli. Although females were more active than males, females were not particularly more exploratory in the social arena compared to males. The results indicate that a novel social partner (even a caged one with limited ability to interact) elicits more exploration than novel objects for both male and female rats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-59
Number of pages4
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank C.E. Barrett, M. Diep, I. Fassasi, A. Jefferson, K. Haskins, C. Matteo, J. McGovern, K. Mehta, J. Patel, J. Quinn, M. Stine and R. Smull for their assistance with data collection. This research was supported by NIMH R03 MH071406 (to SAC) and an internal Pennsylvania State University grant.


  • Behavior
  • Non-social
  • Novelty
  • Rat
  • Sex difference
  • Social


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