Copulatory and agonistic behavior in Syrian hamsters following social defeat

Elizabeth C Jeffress, Kim L Huhman
Aggressive Behavior 2013, 39 (3): 239-45
Syrian hamsters are highly aggressive animals that reliably defend their home territory. After social defeat, however, hamsters no longer defend their home cage but instead display submissive and defensive behavior toward an intruder, a response that we have termed conditioned defeat. Plasma testosterone is significantly reduced in Syrian hamsters following repeated defeat suggesting that social defeat might also impair copulatory behavior. The present study aimed to determine whether copulatory behavior in male Syrian hamsters is suppressed following repeated social defeats and additionally whether exposure to a hormone-primed stimulus female after social defeat reduces the behavioral response to defeat. Hamsters were paired with an aggressive opponent for one or nine defeats using a resident-intruder model, while controls were placed into the empty cage of a resident aggressor. On the day after the last treatment, half of the hamsters were paired with a receptive female for 10 min. There were no significant differences in the copulatory behavior of defeated versus non-defeated hamsters, and the opportunity to copulate had no effect on subsequent conditioned defeat testing, as defeated animals displayed significantly more submissive behavior than did non-defeated animals. The current data suggest that conditioned defeat is not necessarily a maladaptive response to social stress, at least in terms of reproductive behavior, but may instead represent a viable behavioral strategy adopted by losing animals following social defeat. Further, these data indicate that conditioned defeat is relatively persistent and stable, as the opportunity to copulate does not reduce the subsequent display of submissive behavior.


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