Feel-good songs: application of a novel playback paradigm to induce a positive affective state in juvenile male Wistar rats

Tayla J. Hammond*, Sarah M. Brown, Simone L. Meddle, Birte L. Nielsen, Alistair B. Lawrence, Vincent Bombail

*Corresponding author for this work

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Across animal welfare science there is a lack of validated models of positive affective states. Previous work has shown that presentation of contrastingly valenced ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs) to rats alters their behaviour. However, the potential of using playback of USVs to induce a positive affective state and promote positive animal welfare has yet to be explored. We used three cohorts of juvenile male Wistar rats (37 days old) in three independent experiments to develop a novel home cage playback paradigm to induce a positive affective state in rats. The intention behind this paradigm was to create a low-stress environment, given the heightened susceptibility of positive affective states to stress. Rats were presented in pairs with a playback track consisting of positively valenced 50-kHz USVs, White Noise (within the 30 – 100 kHz range), or Background Noise in their home cage. In Experiments 1 (N = 7 cages) and 2 (N = 14 cages), rats received a single presentation of each playback track in a Latin square experimental design. In Experiment 3 (N = 20 cages), rats received repeated presentations of the same playback track over five consecutive days. Changes in affective state were measured through USV production, approach to the stimulus, and play behaviour. Across all three experiments, the presentation of 50-kHz stimuli USVs increased subject-produced positively valenced 50 kHz USVs compared to presentation of Background Noise (e.g. Experiment 2; F 2,239 = 6.05, p < 0.05). Similarly, rats also expressed an increase in approach behaviour towards the speaker in response to 50 kHz stimuli USVs compared to White Noise and Background Noise (Experiment 3 duration of approach behaviour; F2,479 = 10.55, p < 0.001). Whilst there was complexity in the relationship between the presentation of different acoustic stimuli and play behaviour, rats presented with the 50 kHz stimuli showed increased social play in the ten minutes during presentation under some of our test conditions. The impact of acoustic stimuli on measures of affective state across cohorts provides evidence that the home cage playback paradigm holds promise as a method for inducing a positive affective state in rats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106296
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Early online date27 May 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - Jun 2024

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  • 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalisations
  • Play
  • Playback of ultrasonic vocalisations
  • Positive animal welfare
  • Rats


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