Factors Influencing Cortisol and Behavioral Responses to Maternal Separation in Guinea Pigs

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Infant guinea pigs recently were found to respond to brief maternal separation with an increase in plasma cortisol levels. The present experiments were conducted to further characterize this response and compare it with the cortisol separation response previously observed in primates. In Experiment 1, separation of guinea pig pups from their mothers did not elevate the plasma cortisol levels of the pups at either 30 or 180 min when they remained alone in their home cages during the separation. Experiment 2 showed that cortisol levels of pups placed alone in a novel cage were greater at 30, 90, and 180 min than were those of pups placed in the cages together with their mothers. In contrast, the separated pups vocalized more than did pups tested with their mothers during the initial 30 min only. In Experiment 3, pups raised on inanimate surrogates responded less intensely to rearing-figure separation in terms of both cortisol and vocalizations than did mother-reared controls. Taken together, these results indicate both differences (response to home cage separation) and similarities (dissociation of cortisol and vocalization responses, effect of surrogate separation) in the separation responses of guinea pig and primate infants. The guinea pig model may provide a useful adjunct to primate studies for examining particular issues concerning physiological effects of brief separation from an attachment object.



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