Social interaction modifies learned aversions, sodium appetite, and both palatability and handling-time induced dietary preference in rats (Rattus norvegicus).
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In a series of four experiments, I examined the extent to which socially transmitted diet preference could counteract the effects of a learned aversion (Experiment 1), a palatability-based diet preference (Experiment 2), a polyethylene glycol 20,000-induced sodium appetite (Experiment 3), and a handling-time induced dietary preference (Experiment 4). I found that rats poisoned after eating a novel diet ate very substantial amounts of the averted diet following interaction with conspecifics that had eaten the averted diet. Following interaction with conspecifics that had eaten an unpalatable diet, rats offered a choice between palatable and unpalatable diets ate more than twice as much unpalatable diet as did controls lacking social experience. Sodium-deficient rats offered a choice between sodium-enriched and sodium-adequate diets ate less than half as much sodium-enriched diet, following interaction with conspecifics that had eaten sodium-adequate diet as did control rats lacking social experience. Rats offered a choice between isocaloric, roughly equipalatable foods with long and short handling times (e.g., sunflower seeds with and without shells) chose the food having the longer handling time after interacting with conspecifics eating that food. These findings suggest that social influence is a major factor in guiding diet selection by rats.
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