At the onset of agonistic social challenge, individuals must assess the degree of threat the opponent represents in order to react appropriately. We aimed to characterize the neuroendocrine changes accompanying this period of initial social assessment using the lizard Anolis carolinensis. Conveyance of aggressive intent by male A. carolinensis is facilitated by rapid postorbital skin darkening (eyespot), whereas eyespot presence inhibits opponent aggression. By manipulating this visual signal, we also investigated whether differing neuroendocrine changes were evoked by initial presentation of varying levels of social threat. Subjects were painted postorbitally either with black paint (high threat level), green paint (low threat level) or water (controls). Painted animals were presented with a mirror and sampled immediately upon exhibiting aggressive intent towards the reflected simulated opponent, but before producing behaviors such as motor pattern-based displays. Control animals (blank surface presented) were sampled at times derived from averaging response times of painted subjects. Brains and plasma were analyzed for monoamine activity and catecholamine levels using electrochemical HPLC. Social threat evoked increases in plasma catecholamine levels indistinguishable from those caused by brief environmental disturbance. However, brief social challenge caused distinct rapid increases in amygdala and nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine and serotonin levels. Amygdalar changes were associated with general social threat presence, but NAc monoamines were affected by both threat level and subject motivation to engage in confrontation. This suggests that specific rapid activity changes in key forebrain limbic nuclei differ according to the degree of social threat perceived at the start of the interaction.
- Social stress
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience