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A systematic review of sex differences in rough and tumble play across non-human mammals

Marley, Catherine L.; Pollard, Tessa M.; Barton, Robert A.; Street, Sally E.

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It is widely believed that juvenile male mammals typically engage in higher rates of rough and tumble play (RTP) than do females, in preparation for adult roles involving intense physical competition between males. The consistency of this sex difference across diverse mammalian species has, however, not yet been systematically investigated, limiting our current understanding of its possible adaptive function. This review uses narrative synthesis to (i) evaluate the ubiquity of male-biased RTP across non-human mammals, (ii) identify patterns of variation within and between taxonomic groups, and (iii) propose possible predictors of variation in these differences, including methodological and socio-ecological factors, for investigation by future studies. We find that most species studied do exhibit higher rates or RTP in males than females, while female-biased RTP is rare. Sex differences are smaller and less consistent than expected, with many studies finding similar rates of RTP in males and females. We identify multiple potential socio-ecological predictors of variation in sex differences in RTP, such as intrasexual competition and dietary niche. However, variation is not strongly phylogenetically patterned, suggesting that methodological and environmental factors, such as sample size and play partner availability, are important to consider in future comparative analyses.


Marley, C. L., Pollard, T. M., Barton, R. A., & Street, S. E. (2022). A systematic review of sex differences in rough and tumble play across non-human mammals. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 76(12), Article 158.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 20, 2022
Online Publication Date Nov 14, 2022
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date Nov 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 14, 2022
Journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Print ISSN 0340-5443
Electronic ISSN 1432-0762
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 76
Issue 12
Article Number 158


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