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The pattern of sex differences in a large sample (about 400 for each sex) of F2-generation rats, derived from inbred Roman high- and low-avoidance strains differing in fearfulness and brain functioning, was investigated. We obtained measures from responses to a battery of novel/threatening tests [open field (OF), plus maze (PM), hole board (HB), activity (A), and acoustic startle reflex (ASR)] as well as learned fear paradigms [classical fear conditioning (CFC) and shuttlebox avoidance conditioning (SAC)]. The results showed that almost all behaviors assessed fit with a pattern of unidirectional sex effects characterized by male rats as being more fearful than females: males defecated more than females in the OF, PM, HB, ASR, and CFC; ambulated less in the OF, PM, A, and SAC; showed more self-grooming in PM and HB; explored the open arms of the PM and the holes of the HB less; displayed enhanced ASR; and showed poorer performance in the SAC task. We applied two factor analyses to each sex showing that, in general, they shared a common three-factor structure: a Learned Fear Factor comprising SAC and CFC responding, a Fear of Heights/Open Spaces Factor with the highest loadings for open arm behavior in the PM, and an Emotional Reactivity Factor, mainly grouping defecations, ambulation, and self-grooming. These results indicate that the essential components of fearful behavior are similar for both sexes in an inbred but genetically heterogeneous population.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Physiol Behav

Publication Date

04/2003

Volume

78

Pages

723 - 732

Keywords

Animals, Avoidance Learning, Conditioning (Psychology), Exploratory Behavior, Fear, Female, Male, Motor Activity, Rats, Reflex, Startle, Sex Characteristics