The Effects of Social Interaction and Odor Exposure on Food Preferences in Sprague Dawley Rats

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Rat’s habitats are diverse; as a result rats have become adept omnivores. Due to the diversity of the environments and the subsequent diversity of potential foods and poisons in such environments, rats must be selective and cautious of which foods to consume. In addition, rats cannot expel ingested poisons by vomiting, due to anatomical restrictions. Therefore it is imperative that rats develop social and behavioral adaptations in order to reduce the potential dangers of poisons in the environment.
One such behavioral adaptation is neophobia, or the fear of new experiences or things. In most cases, if a rat is presented with a novel food, it may eat a small amount of the food. Then, if no adverse effects occur, then the rat may continue to eat a larger amount. However, if after the rat eats a small amount of the food it becomes sick it will avoid the food in the future; this is known as a conditioned taste aversion (lin2008). Early research regarding taste aversion in rats suggested that rats develop an aversion to water consumed before radiation exposure. The results of the study suggest that the rats avoided the water due to the adverse effects experienced from the radiation (garcia1966).
Rats have leveraged their nature as a social species to create social adaptations that prevent ingesting poisonous substances. Adult rats have been shown to prefer foods that other rats have eaten previously (strupp1984). Furthermore, the olfactory system of rats is highly developed. Rats are therefore able to identify smells that are present on another rat’s fur or breath. If a rat smells a food on another rat, this exposure will diminish the effects of neophobia, thus increasing preference, and the rat will be more likely to choose the...

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...us research, odor alone exposure does not elicit a statistically significant food preference of cinnamon or cocoa with short term exposure (stetter) (galef1985). The results of the long term period also support previous research; the longer exposure duration did obtain results that indicated the food preference selection of cinnamon or cocoa based on odor-alone exposure (stetter) (galef1985). Although the observers did not exhibit a food preference selection in the short term, the presence of a selection in the long term suggests that the longer exposure to a moderate odor such as cinnamon may have influenced the food preference by decreasing innate behaviors such as neophobia when a conspecific is not present. Interestingly, the results of the long term also suggest that mechanisms other than social influence have an effect on food selection preferences (stetter).

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