The extent to which social variables may modulate the fear associated with a predator cue was assessed in juvenile rats. Cat odor reduced play to a comparable extent in both socially housed and isolate-housed rats, although socially housed rats exhibited more risk assessment during extinction. Rats that had played previously in the context used for assessing fear hid slightly less when exposed to cat odor than those rats that had not played previously in the testing context. However, no other differences were found between these two groups suggesting that prior social experience with the testing context has minimal effects on fear. In a direct test of a 'social buffering' hypothesis, rats that were tested for contextual fear conditioning in the presence of an unfamiliar partner were less fearful than those rats tested alone. These data are consistent with a social buffering hypothesis and suggest that positive social cues may help animals cope with the threat of predation.
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Siviy, Stephen M. Effects of Pre-pubertal Social Experiences on the Responsiveness of Juvenile Rats to Predator Odors. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Reviews. 2008 Sept;32(7):1249-58. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.05.004