A new study shows that female rats prefer the male rat equivalent of that dude who blames his super dark past for his habit of starting fights in bars. The emotional mixture of a stressful upbringing plus ultra-dominant behavior is what makes female rat hearts go aflutter — and scientists think the same might apply to human behavior as well.
In the upcoming March edition of Hormones and Behavior, a team of researchers test the hypothesis that social stress experienced in adolescence would cause male rats to become less attractive to females. If these males were human teenagers, they would have had a pretty rough high school experience. They tested their theory by introducing females to males that were not stressed in adolescence and to those who were, then determining who they preferred to mate with.
The researchers stressed out the male rats during adolescence by frequently changing their cage partners, which means they had to routinely go through the process of either dominating another rat or submitting. Because of this, the group of stressed rats were further subdivided into those who tended to be more dominant or more submissive.
What they found was that the female rats primarily preferred the stressed rats that were also dominant. Their second preference was for the control rat group that had never experienced stress. Coming in last were the stressed, submissive rats — or, as the researchers call them, “the losers.”
“Basically a female rat can identify who are dominant animals and who had been stressed during adolescence, and she will go toward the male that reacted the best to the stressor by being dominant in his cage,” says Binghamton University co-author Nicole Cameron, Ph.D., in a statement. “The male that was stressed during adolescence and is a submissive animal is really the loser, because the female will not go toward him as much.”
Essentially, what this study shows is that the ability to stay dominant after experiencing stress is the golden ticket to rat romance. This is the first time this result has been demonstrated in rats, and the researchers believe that it could lead to a better understanding of how environmental and social stress affects other mammals — including humans. So sit tight, Jonathan Byers-types of the world: society’s Nancys could end up picking you over the Steve Harringtons, eventually.