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Alternative Title

Quantifying differences in species specific social behavior using operant conditioning

Publication Date


First Advisor

Annaliese K. Beery

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Social motivation, Operant conditioning, Peer pressure, Social behavior in animals


BSTRACT Affiliative social behavior is commonly studied in the context of reproduction21, resulting in a lack of research in the area of behavior that relates to peers. Meadow and prairie voles provide unique models for studying these peer relationships because they form a preference for same sex partners as measured by a partner preference test4,6 . This allows for the study of behavior that is not motivated by reproduction2 . Prairie voles display monogamous social strategies, forming pair bonds with specific animals and raising young with both parents. Meadow voles do not show the same behavior; their social bonds are season specific, and young are typically raised by one parent18. A study of both will allow the investigation of what mechanisms promote these two different strategies, and the role of motivation in same sex peer bonds in each species. Social motivation is the reward value of interaction with another animal, and can be measured by a variety of behavioral assays. Operant conditioning using a progressive ratio measures the motivation because the animal is performing a concrete, and progressively more difficult action in order to obtain a reward12. The current project aims to quantify social motivation of same sex peer vole pairs using operant conditioning in male and female prairie vole pairs and female meadow vole pairs. Voles were trained to lever press for food rewards followed by social testing. Of the fourteen voles trained, six progressed to social training, and four completed lever pressing both for access to a partner and for access to a stranger vole. A significant increase in responses was demonstrated in a meadow vole when transitioning from a fixed ratio of training to a progressive ratio. Most voles had an even distribution of PR levels achieved over nine days of testing. As expected, voles generally had a higher response rate during PR 1 training for food as compared to FR 1 training for food. The female prairie vole pressed to a higher PR level for access to a partner than 6 the male prairie voles. Male prairie voles spent more time huddling with a partner than a stranger, despite having the same amount of time of access in each phase of social conditioning.




55 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 44-46)