Mice in a ‘Big Brother’ setup develop social structures
New research into mouse social behavior finds signs of leadership and reveals features of “autistic” mouse society.
June 17, 2013 — How does a social animal — mouse or human — gain dominance over his or her fellow creatures? A unique experiment conducted by Dr. Tali Kimchi and her team in the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department provides some unusual insight into the social behavior that enables a social hierarchy, complete with a head honcho, to form.Kimchi and her research team, Aharon Weissbrod, Genady Wasserman and Alex Shapiro, together with Dr. Ofer Feinerman of the Institute’s Physics of Complex Systems Department, developed a system that enabled them to observe a large group of animals living together in semi-natural conditions. This setup was a sort of mouse version of the television show Big Brother. Different strains of mice were placed in the “house” — a four-meter-square pen — and allowed to go about their lives with no intervention from the human team. To automatically track the mice day and night, each mouse was implanted with an ID chip similar to those used in pet cats and dogs, and video cameras were placed strategically around the area with infrared lighting that enabled nighttime filming. With the combined chip reporting and continuous video footage, the system could automatically keep tabs on each individual mouse, knowing its precise location down to the half centimeter, in measurements that were recorded thirty times a second for days and sometimes even months on end.Because the information they obtained was so precise, the team was able to identify dozens of individual behaviors — eating, drinking, running, sleeping, hiding, etc. — as well as social behaviors — seeking out specific companions for activities or rest, avoiding certain individuals, attacking others, and more. The researchers found that it was possible to isolate and identify typical behaviors of individuals, pairs and groups. …
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