Hall, Sarah L., Bradshaw, John W.S. and Robinson, Ian H.
Object play in adult domestic cats: the roles of habituation and disinhibition.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 79, (3), . (doi:10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00153-3).
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We have investigated the role of habituation and disinhibition in the control of object (predatory) play by adult domestic cats Felis silvestris catus both with and without prior experience of hunting. We hypothesised that object play is terminated by rapid habituation to the sensory characteristics of the object played with, and therefore should be disinhibited if the sensory characteristics of the object are changed. Three sequential sessions of play with an unchanging object (a toy) caused almost complete habituation of the play response; replacing the toy with one of contrasting colours in a fourth session elicited intense disinhibited play, suggesting that motivation for play itself had not diminished substantially during the first three sessions. The time interval between sessions affected the extent of disinhibition. After a long delay (25-45 min) between each session play was less intense in the fourth session than in the first; if the interval was 5 min, it was more intense, indicative of post-inhibitory rebound, possibly caused by initial positive feedback of play on its own performance. We suggest that object play by adult cats is controlled by two mechanisms derived from predatory behaviour: one responds to prey-like stimulus characteristics, such as texture and small size, which elicit play, while the second detects change in the toy. The behavioural default towards any object is initial interest if it possesses relevant stimulus characteristics, followed by rapid habituation unless these stimulus characteristics change.
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