This result is crucial, argue Lahvis and Panksepp, because it suggests that the genetic influences on juvenile social behavior may be quite distinct from genetic factors that affect adult social behavior, a finding the researchers suggest has great importance for understanding social evolution, as well as developing more realistic animal models of pervasive developmental disorders, such as autism.
In past research, the social capacities of rodents have been studied primarily in the context of behaviors associated with sexual reproduction, territorial defense and parental care. Those studies, say Lahvis and Panksepp, do not account for the many forms of social interaction that occur prior to sexual maturity, nor do they account for the many kinds of social groupings that occur throughout the animal kingdom and provide much more subtle benefits to an individual.
Results of the new work suggest that juvenile animals may experience different emotional states, depending upon whether they are alone or with others, and that specific genes may influence how they feel within different social contexts.
Identifying the gene or genes at play, says Lahvis, is the next step. "We now know that social motivation can be responsive to genetic factors, but we don't know what these factors are."
Source:University of Wisconsin-Madison