Research Topics

The Social Rodent Lab studies social valuation in rodents. What do we mean by social valuation?

Social valuation is the process by which the brain attaches value to things happening with or to social partners. Examples include the emotional state induced by a social interaction or the warm glow of sharing

We combine neuroeconomic analysis of choice behavior with neurobiological or pharmacological manipulations and the recording of ultrasonic vocalizations. Furthermore, the Social Rodent Lab specializes in recording the electrophysiological signals at the single unit and network level from behaving rodents. Let's look at these methods in turn:

  • Neuroeconomic analysis: when you combine economic concepts such as value, demand and utility with neuroscience methods, it becomes possible to track the value of things (food, social interaction, drugs) in the brain. Economic analysis helps to understand the value of things quantitatively by looking at choices, mostly by asking things like: "Given A vs B, which do you prefer? What about 2A vs B" and so forth, until we can find out precisely how much A is worth in B to you.
  • Neurobiology & Pharmacology: when you work with animal models, you can study the specific contribution of certain parts of the brain or of certain brain chemicals and their receptors to the behavior you are interested in. Often, the cues to which brain areas could be important for a certain function come from human neuroimaging studies. These interventions then help to understand the processes involved in generating some behavior, and perhaps suggest targets for medication if the behavior is disturbed.
  • Ultrasonic Vocalizations: Rats and other animals communicate with each other during social interactions (just like humans). However, rats vocalize in the ultrasonic range with sounds that humans cannot hear. Using specialized microphones and analysis software, it is possible to record the vocalizations and deduce that affective state or mood the animal is in. 
  • Electrophysiology: The brain is made of billions of neurons, all connected to each other in complicated wiring schemes. Each unit, or neuron, essentially is a biochemical and electrical sensor combined with a biochemical output system. By hooking the neurons up in the right way, we can perceive the outside world, make sense of it, decide what to and go and interact with the world. All these steps involved minute electrical potentials and currents, that can be recorded by small and sensitive electrodes. We use such electrodes to record brain activity in animals that are doing a task, making decisions or interacting socially to learn about the neural code and pathways that drive these behaviors.



  • Seidisarouei M, van Gurp S, Pranic NM, Calabus IN, van Wingerden M, Kalenscher T (2021) Distinct Profiles of 50 kHz Vocalizations Differentiate Between Social Versus Non-social Reward Approach and Consumption. Front Behav Neurosci 15:1–17.


  • van Gurp S, Hoog J, Kalenscher T, van Wingerden M (2020) Vicarious reward unblocks associative learning about novel cues in male rats. Elife 9.
  • Kalenscher T, Schönfeld L-M, Löbner S, Wöhr M, van Berkel M, Zech M-P, van Wingerden M (2020) Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations as Social Reinforcers—Implications for a Multilevel Model of the Cognitive Representation of Action and Rats’ Social World. In: Cognitive Structures.


  • Margittai Z, Nave G, Van Wingerden M, Schnitzler A, Schwabe L, Kalenscher T (2018) Combined Effects of Glucocorticoid and Noradrenergic Activity on Loss Aversion. Neuropsychopharmacology 43:334–341.
  • Margittai Z, van Wingerden M, Schnitzler A, Joëls M, Kalenscher T (2018) Dissociable roles of glucocorticoid and noradrenergic activation on social discounting. Psychoneuroendocrinology 90.


  • Hernandez-Lallement J, van Wingerden M, Schäble S, Kalenscher T (2016) Basolateral amygdala lesions abolish mutual reward preferences in rats. Neurobiol Learn Mem 127:1–9.
  • Hernandez-Lallement J, van Wingerden M, Kalenscher T (2016) Towards an animal model of callousness. Neurosci Biobehav Rev.
  • Hernandez-Lallement J, van Wingerden M, Schäble S, Kalenscher T (2016) A Social Reinforcement Learning Hypothesis of Mutual Reward Preferences in Rats. In: Current Topic in Behavioral Neuroscience, pp 159–176.
  • Margittai Z, Nave G, Strombach T, van Wingerden M, Schwabe L, Kalenscher T (2016) Exogenous cortisol causes a shift from deliberative to intuitive thinking. Psychoneuroendocrinology 64:131–135.
  • Oberliessen L, Hernandez-Lallement J, Schäble S, van Wingerden M, Seinstra M, Kalenscher T (2016) Inequity aversion in rats, Rattus norvegicus. Anim Behav 115:157–166.



  • Margittai Z, Strombach T, van Wingerden M, Joëls M, Schwabe L, Kalenscher T (2015) A friend in need: Time-dependent effects of stress on social discounting in men. Horm Behav 73:75–82.
  • van Wingerden M, van den Bos W (2015) Can You Trust a Rat? Using Animal Models to Investigate the Neural Basis of Trust Like Behavior. Soc Cogn 33:387–413.
  • van Wingerden M, Marx C, Kalenscher T (2015) Budget Constraints Affect Male Rats’ Choices between Differently Priced Commodities. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0129581. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129581.
  • Hernandez-Lallement J, van Wingerden M, Marx C, Srejic M, Kalenscher T (2015) Rats prefer mutual rewards in a prosocial choice task. Front Neurosci 8:1–9