Lampe, J. F., Ruchti, S., Burman, O. et al. 2019. Play like me: Similarity in playfulness promotes social play. PLoS ONE 14(10), e0224282.
Social play is associated with the experience of positive emotions in higher vertebrates and may be used as a measure of animal welfare. Altering motivation to play (e.g., through short-term social isolation) can temporarily affect play levels between familiar individuals, a process which may involve emotional contagion. This study investigated how forming groups based on known differences in the personality trait “playfulness” (i.e., the longer-term propensity of an individual to actively play from adolescence to early adulthood) affects social play. Seventy-six adolescent male Lister Hooded rats underwent a Play-in-Pairs test assessing their playfulness, ranked as high (H), intermediate (I) or low (L). At seven weeks of age, rats were resorted into homogenous groups of similar (LLL, III, HHH), or heterogeneous groups of dissimilar (HII, LII) playfulness. Social play was scored in the home cage at Weeks 8, 10, 12 of age. A second Play-in-Pairs test was performed (Week 11) to assess consistency of playfulness. A Social Preference test investigated whether I rats in heterogeneous groups preferred proximity with I, H or L cage mates. It was found that heterogeneous groups played less than homogeneous ones at adolescence (8 weeks of age), while play levels at early adulthood (Weeks 10 and 12) did not differ between groups. Play in the homogeneous groups decreased with age as expected, while it did not change over time in the heterogeneous groups, which did not compensate for the lower play levels shown at adolescence. Play-in-Pairs scores before and after resorting were mildly correlated, indicating some level of consistency over time despite the resorting procedure. In the Social Preference test, subjects did not prefer one playfulness level over another. We conclude that a mismatch in playfulness may negatively affect social play development, and thus the welfare, of rats. Groups made of animals with similar playfulness, even those initially scoring relatively low in this trait, seemed to be more successful in establishing play relationships during adolescence.