Delineation of violence from functional aggression in mice: an ethological approach

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Behav Genet, Volume 39, Number 1, p.73-90 (2009)


1573-3297 (Electronic)00

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Aggression/*physiology; Animals; Circadian Rhythm; Environment; Ethology/*methods; Female; Male; Markov Chains; Mice; Selection; Genetic; Sexual Behavior; Animal/physiology; *Social Behavior; Species Specificity; Violence/*psychology


The present study aims at delineating violence from aggression, using genetically selected high (SAL, TA, NC900) and low (LAL, TNA NC100) aggressive mouse strains. Unlike aggression, violence lacks intrinsic control, environmental constraints as well as functional endpoints. Conventional measures namely latency, frequency and duration were used initially to accomplish the objective of delineation using the above strains. However, these quantitative measures fail to reveal further details beyond the magnitude of differential aggression, especially within the high aggressive mouse strains. Hence, it was necessary to analyze further, the behavioral sequences that make up the agonistic encounter. Novel measures such as threat/(attack + chase) (T/AC) and offense/withdrawal (O/W) ratios, context dependency and first-order Markov chain analysis were used for the above purpose. Our present analyses reveal clear qualitative behavioral differences between the three high aggressive selection strains based on the following facets namely structure and context in an agonistic interaction. Structure refers to a detailed study of the agonistic interaction components (ritualistic display, offense and sensitivity to the opponent submission cues) between any two subjects (inter-male interaction for the present study). Context refers to the capacity to identify an opponent by nature of its state (free moving/anesthetized), sex and the environment (home/neutral territory). NC900 displayed context dependency and structurally a rich repertoire of agonistic interaction components with an opponent. SAL failed to show discrimination and its inter-male agonistic behavior is restricted to a repetitive and an opponent-insensitive pattern of attack and chase. TA was comparable to SAL in terms of the structure but sensitive to context variables. Thus, SAL seems to display a violent form of aggressive behavior, while NC900 display 'functional' hyperaggression against a docile opponent in an inter-male agonistic interaction.