Traveling Companions Add Complexity and Hinder Performance in the Spatial Behavior of Rats

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    Alex Dorfman, Tel Aviv University (TAU), Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Kristoffer Laigaard Nielbo
  • David Eilam, Tel Aviv University (TAU), Tel Aviv, Israel
We sought to uncover the impact of the social environment on the spatial behavior of rats. Food-deprived rats were trained in a spatial task of collecting food items from 16 equispaced objects. Following training, they were tested, first alone and then with a similarly-trained cage-mate. It was found that the presence of another rat substantially altered the rats' spatial behavior. Lone rats collected the food items faster while traveling a shorter distance, reflecting a higher efficiency of task completion. When accompanied by a partner, however, the rats traveled together, visiting the same set of objects in each trip with one of them leading. Whether alone or with a partner, rats continued to revisit the same objects; however, more such revisits occurred with a partner. We argue that revisiting objects is not necessarily an error, since returning to past places is an important aspect of rats’ natural behavior. Revisiting an object following food depletion implies that searching for food was not the main driving force in the rats' spatial behavior. Specifically, despite food deprivation, rats were more attentive to one another than to the food. This could be adaptive, since foraging and feeding in groups is a way of poison avoidance in wild rats. Finally, the addition of a social component added complexity to the environment since the rats organized their spatial behavior in reference to one another in addition to their organization in the physical surrounding. Consequently, when tested with a partner, spatial behavior was less structured, less predictable and more chaotic.
Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S One
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 4 Jan 2016

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