Social conditioned place preference in the captive ground squirrel (Ictidomys Tridecemlineatus): Social reward as a natural phenotype

Garet P. Lahvis, Jules B. Panksepp, Bruce C. Kennedy, Clarinda R. Wilson, Dana K. Merriman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Social behaviors of wild animals are often considered within an ultimate framework of adaptive benefits versus survival risks. By contrast, studies of laboratory animals more typically focus on affective aspects of behavioral decisions, whether a rodent derives a rewarding experience from social encounter, and how this experience might be initiated and maintained by neural circuits. Artificial selection and inbreeding have rendered laboratory animals more affiliative and less aggressive than their wild conspecifics, leaving open the possibility that social reward is an artifact of domestication. We compared social behaviors of wild and captive population of juvenile 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), the latter being 2nd- and 3rd-generation descendants of wild individuals. At an age corresponding to emergence from the burrow, postnatal day (PD) 38, captive squirrels engaged in vigorous social approach and play and these juvenile behaviors declined significantly by PD 56. Similarly, young wild squirrels expressed social proximity and play; affiliative interactions declined with summer's progression and were replaced by agonistic chasing behaviors. Social conditioned place preference testing (conditioned PDs 40-50) indicated that adolescent squirrels derived a rewarding experience from social reunion. Our results support the contention that undomesticated rodents have the capacity for social reward and more generally suggest the possibility that positive affective experiences may support group cohesion, social cooperation, and altruism in the wild.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-303
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Camaraderie effect
  • Classical conditioning
  • Play-fighting
  • Social reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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