Brief Exposure to the Biological Mother “Potentiates” the Isolation Behavior of Guinea Pig Pups

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When isolated rat pups are briefly reunited with a lactating female, her subsequent removal leads to a dramatic increase in the emission of ultrasonic vocalizations, but not other behaviors. Whether this socially induced augmentation of isolation behavior (i.e., “potentiation”) is characteristic only of altricial rodents is not known. Therefore, we examined precocial guinea pig pups in a potentiation paradigm. Ten-day-old guinea pigs were isolated in a test cage for 10 min, at which time they were then placed into a second cage for 5 min that either contained a companion or, for controls, was empty. Pups were then isolated again in the test cage for a second 10-min period. Control pups showed a significant reduction in vocalizing and locomotor activity from the first to second isolation period. Exposure to the biological mother prevented the decline in both behaviors (Experiment 1), whereas exposure to a familiar littermate (Experiment 2) had no effect, and exposure to an unfamiliar lactating female (Experiment 3) had only a minimal effect on locomotor activity. The results show that potentiation of isolation behaviors is not limited to altricial rodents, and suggest that specific characteristics of the effect (i.e., its magnitude, the specific behaviors affected, and the selectivity of the response to particular social partners) varies with the abilities and requirements of the young, as well as the behavioral ecology of the species in question. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 48: 653–659, 2006.



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