Kisko, T. M., Himmler, B. T., Himmler, S. M. et al. 2015. Are 50-kHz calls used as play signals in the playful interactions of rats? II. Evidence from the effects of devocalization. Behavoural Processes 111, 25-33.
During playful interactions, juvenile rats emit many 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations, which are associated with a positive affective state. In addition, these calls may also serve a communicative role – as play signals that promote playful contact. Consistent with this hypothesis, a previous study found that vocalizations are more frequent prior to playful contact than after contact is terminated. The present study uses devocalized rats to test three predictions arising from the play signals hypothesis. First, if vocalizations are used to facilitate contact, then in pairs of rats in which one is devocalized, the higher frequency of pre-contact calling should only be present when the intact rat is initiating the approach. Second, when both partners in a playing pair are devocalized, the frequency of play should be reduced and the typical pattern of playful wrestling disrupted. Finally, when given a choice to play with a vocal and a non-vocal partner, rats should prefer to play with the one able to vocalize. The second prediction was supported in that the frequency of playful interactions as well as some typical patterns of play was disrupted. Even though the data for the other two predictions did not produce the expected findings, they support the conclusion that, in rats, 50-kHz calls are likely to function to maintain a playful mood and for them to signal to one another during play fighting.