Differing effects of familiarity/kinship in the social transmission of fear associations and food preferences in rats
Despite its apparent adaptive advantages, past research has found that greater familiarity and/or familial relatedness of a social demonstrator does not enhance social learning in the social transmission of food preference paradigm. This finding runs counter to research examining the effects of demonstrator characteristics in fear-mediated social learning paradigms, in which increased familiarity and/or relatedness of a demonstrator promotes higher rates of learning in observer rats. In our first experiment, we were able to corroborate the finding that increased familiarity/relatedness to the demonstrator does not enhance acquisition of a socially transmitted food preference. Furthermore, on examination of the social behavior between observers and their demonstrators during the acquisition of a socially transmitted food preference, no analogous relationship between social contact and expression of the learned preference was observed. In our second experiment, we provide further evidence that familiarity/relatedness may enhance the social acquisition of a fear response to an otherwise neutral auditory cue and demonstrate that this effect is not solely the result of increased social contact between the observer and their demonstrator during acquisition. Despite similar levels of post-cue contact in both observer types, a positive correlation was observed between post-cue social contact and expression of a socially acquired fear behavior when the observer was familiar/related to their demonstrator but not novel/unrelated. These findings both validate previous research on the role of familiarity/relatedness in these two social learning paradigms and provide further behavioral evidence that unique social mechanisms may serve to mediate the social transmission of fear.
KeywordsSocial learning Social transmission of food preference Fear conditioning by-proxy Familiarity Social fear learning
LAA designed experiment 1, gathered and analyzed data for experiment 1, and drafted the manuscript; CEJ designed experiment 2, gathered and analyzed data for experiment 2, and contributed to writing the manuscript; MHM designed the experiments, interpreted findings, contributed to writing, and approved the final version of this manuscript
Research funds obtained through the University of Texas at Austin.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
We have no competing interests.
All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards in accordance with the National Institute of Health’s Guide for the Care and Use of Experimental Animals and were approved by the University of Texas at Austin Animal Care and Use Committee (#2018-00155).