Multiple dimensions of social motivation in adult female degus

Navdeep K. Lidhar, Ayushi Thakur, Anna Julia David, Kaori Takehara-Nishiuchi, Nathan Insel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Many animals become more motivated to interact after a period of isolation. This phenomenon may involve general drives, e.g. for social touch or companionship, as well as drives that are specific to particular peers, and which ultimately serve to reestablish relationships between the individuals. Female degus are known to be affiliative with multiple other individuals, including unrelated and unfamiliar conspecifics, offering an opportunity to study social motivation independent from exclusive pair-bonds or overt, same-sex competition. We attempted to disentangle factors driving peer interaction by examining reunion behavior across several social isolation and separation manipulations. High levels of interaction were observed between adult females who had been separated even without isolation, revealing a drive to re-establish relationships with specific peers. The content of separation-only reunions differed from isolation, with the latter involving more early-session interaction, higher levels of allogrooming before rear-sniffing, and a higher ratio of chitter vocalizations. To assess whether post-isolation behavior was related to stress, we examined reunions following a non-social (footshock) stressor. Like isolation, footshock increased early-session interactions, but did not increase allogrooming before rear-sniffing or chittering, as compared with controls. To test whether separation-only reunion behavior shared qualities with relationship formation, we also examined reunions of new (stranger) dyads. Strangers exhibited higher levels of interaction than cagemates, with particularly high levels of late-session rear-sniffing. Like separation-only reunions, strangers showed more non-chitter vocalizations and lower levels of allogrooming before rear-sniffing. Across experiments, an exploratory clustering method was used to identify vocalizations that differed between conditions. This yielded promising leads for future investigation, including a chaff-type syllable that may have been more common during relationship renewal. Overall, results are consistent with the hypothesis that female degu reunions are supported by both general and peer-stimulus specific drives, expressed through the structure of physical and vocal interactions over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0250219
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4 April
StatePublished - Apr 2021


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