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Social spatial cognition in rat tetrads: how they select their partners and their gathering places


Spatial organization is an extensively studied field, in which most of the research has been on how the physical environment is perceived and conceived. There is a consensus that physical attributes such as environment geometry and landmarks are key factors in shaping spatial cognition. Nevertheless, the numerous studies of spatial behavior have usually been carried out on individuals, thereby overlooking the possible impact of the social environment. In the present study, rats were exposed to an unfamiliar open-field, first alone and then in tetrads of unfamiliar individuals, in order to monitor and analyze when and how their individual spatial behavior converged to a group spatial behavior. We found that the unfamiliar rats spent most of their time in companionship, first with preferred partners and ultimately as a quartet. Specifically, group formation was dynamic and gradual, with the rats first forming duos, then trios, and ultimately a quartet. Trios and quartets mostly huddled in the same specific corner that became a shared home base, from which they took solo or duo roundtrips to the arena. The present study unveils how, by means of gradual interactions among self, place, and conspecifics, four unfamiliar rats organized together their social spatial behavior.

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This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation Grant 230/13 to DE. We are grateful to Naomi Paz for language editing. DE is a Visiting Professor at the Department of OTANES, University of South Africa.

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Correspondence to David Eilam.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This study and the maintenance conditions for the rats were carried out under the regulations and approval of the Institutional Committee for Animal Experimentation at Tel-Aviv University (permit # L-14-026).

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Weiss, O., Segev, E. & Eilam, D. Social spatial cognition in rat tetrads: how they select their partners and their gathering places. Anim Cogn 20, 409–418 (2017).

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  • Spatial representation
  • Exploration
  • Social environment
  • Social cognition
  • Group formation