Cooperative social coordination and aggression in male laboratory rats: Effects of housing and testosterone

Heidi H. Swanson, Richard Schuster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A cooperative behavior, coordinated shuttling by pairs of laboratory rats in a rectangular chamber, can be influenced strongly by an interaction between housing and sex. Males and females learn readily when housed together socially, but individual housing ("isolation") causes severe deficits selectively in males. The aim of the present study was to examine the role of testosterone in the differential effects of housing on cooperation learning. Males of a Sprague-Dawley derived strain were housed socially or individually and treated daily in one of three ways (six groups, n = 6 per group): (1) castrated, injected with oil vehicle (without testosterone); (2) castrated, injected with 500 μg testosterone propionate (exogenous TP); and (3) sham operated, injected with oil (intact, endogenous testosterone). Socially housed pairs learned readily in all treatment groups, using strategies of coordination in which stereotyped contact or aggressive interactions were interpolated. Individual housing was associated with a deficit, but only in the TP-treated and intact groups in which some pairs either did not learn or performed poorly. The deficit was associated with violent fighting and extreme and stable differentiation into dominants and subordinates, the latter exhibiting prolonged freezing. Oil-treated castrates, when housed individually, were unimpaired and actually surpassed their socially housed counterparts on some measures. Their success was associated with an increase only in low-level aggression. The housing-hormone interaction in male rats suggests that testosterone influences the capacity to develop cooperative behavior by modulating both aggression and its consequences for the relationship between partners. The use of social interaction models, including cooperation, for the study of behavior-hormone interactions was also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-330
Number of pages21
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Cooperative social coordination and aggression in male laboratory rats: Effects of housing and testosterone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this