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Current protocols


In contrast to traditional laboratory animals, prairie voles form socially monogamous partnerships in the wild and exhibit lasting social preferences for familiar individuals-both mates and same-sex peers-in the laboratory. Decades of research into the mechanisms supporting pair bonding behavior have made prairie voles an important model organism for the study of social relationships. The partner preference test is a laboratory test of familiarity preference that takes place over an extended interval (typically 3 hr), during which test subjects can directly interact with conspecifics and often engage in resting side-by-side contact (i.e., huddling). The use of this test has enabled study of the neural pathways and mechanisms involved in promoting or impairing relationship formation. The tendency to form partner preferences is also used as a behavioral indicator of the effects of early life experiences and environmental exposures. While this test was developed to assess the extent of social preference for mates in prairie voles, it has been adapted for use in other social contexts and in multiple other species. This article provides instructions for conducting the classic partner preference test, as well as variations including same-sex "peer" partner preference tests. The effects of several protocol variations are examined, including duration of cohousing, separation interval, use of tethers versus barriers, linear versus branched apparatus configuration, and duration of the test. The roles of social variables including sex of the focal individual, sex of conspecifics, reproductive state, and use of the test in other species are then considered. Finally, sample data are provided along with discussion of scoring and statistical analysis of partner preference tests.


familiarity preference, partner preference, partner preference test, prairie vole, social behavior, social recognition





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© The authors Licensed to Smith College and distributed CC-BY under the Smith College Faculty Open Access Policy.


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