Olfactory stimulation induces filial preferences for huddling in rat pups

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Rat pups of all ages huddle with conspecifics, but the sensory control of contact behavior changes ontogenetically. Thermal cues control huddling until about Day 15, at which time species' odors become the dominant stimulus. The present 2 experiments with 150 Sprague-Dawley rat pups indicate that the filial response to conspecifics is dependent on olfactory experience. A synthetic chemical scent was added to the smells of the dam from Day 1 to Day 20 postpartum. Standardized videographic tests were used to assess the development of huddling preference. Preferences for nest-typical smells emerged by Day 15 in Ss from both scented and nonscented litters. Ss from scented nests preferred to huddle with a scented stimulus rat, whereas control Ss preferred a nonadulterated rat stimulus. Additional testing indicated that the affirmative preferences were specific to rearing odor and were not based on decreased aversion to test scents or on disrupted olfactory discrimination. The ontogeny of species-typical contact behavior is discussed in terms of the induction of a perceptual preference that is based on early odor stimulation. (35 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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