Graduate Studies Faculty

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Garet Lahvis, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Graduate Program Director
Admin Unit: SOM-Behavioral Neuroscience Department
Phone: 503-346-0820
Lab Phone: 503-494-8464
Fax: 503-494-6877
Behavioral Neuroscience
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Research Interests:
altruism, social motivation, vocal communication, empathy, ground squirrels, self-recognition, eye-gaze, facial expression, imitation, story telling, children, affective states, agency, wellbeing, ecological neuroscience » PubMed Listing
Preceptor Rotations
Dr. Lahvis has not indicated availability for preceptor rotations at this time.
Faculty Mentorship
Dr. Lahvis is not available as a mentor for 2016-2017. Dr. Lahvis is not available as a mentor for 2017-2018.

Mammals often communicate about perceived changes in their external environment: detection of a predator, a prey, or another conspecific and the signal their emotional response: fear, anticipation, anger, social anticipation. Essential for individual wellbeing and survival in humans and other mammals, these abilities involve emotions, expressing them, detecting them in others, and interpreting them correctly. My laboratory studies how social behaviors expressed in response to environmental changes communicate emotions and social understanding. We have employed cue-conditioned fear paradigms to identify empathy in juvenile mice and conditioned place preference testing to discover that young mice and ground squirrels derive pleasure from living with their adolescent peers.

Our experiments are stepping outside the lab and into natural environments.  Animals raised inside laboratory cages are deprived of social refuge, freedom to explore novel objects and environments, and opportunities to make decisions that come with rewarding and aversive consequences. In nature, their wild and feral conspecifics experience the spatial and temporal complexity relevant to healthy brain development and human experience. We study wildlife, often ground squirrels because, like humans, they sense their environment predominantly through visual and auditory cues. We discovered that captive ‘asocial’ juvenile ground squirrels derive pleasure from access to social living.  Through lab and field studies, we identified a putative ‘camaraderie effect,’ a proximal mechanism for altruism whereby helping others increases psychological access to social rewards that in turn, promotes physiological health.

We also study how children respond to social situations portrayed through stories. We use animated stories to learn where children pay attention while observing a dynamic social situation. We ask how they respond emotionally to the trials and accomplishments of a story character, how they imitate, and how they comprehend stories. We are particularly interested in how these social abilities develop with maturation. We ask how variations in behavioral and physiological responses to social situations, when measured objectively and at fine-scale, can be used to characterize individual differences in social temperament. 

Of current interest are the inadvertent effects of laboratory housing on animal neurodevelopment and how we can ascertain the effects of environmental confinement on cognition, affective experience, and animal subject wellbeing. 

Selected papers listed below:

Lahvis, GP. 2016. Rodent Models of Autism, Epigenetics, and the Inescapable Problem of Animal Constraint. Animal Models of Behavior Genetics, Springer: 265-301. 

Lahvis, GP. 2016.  Social Reward and Empathy as Proximal Contributions to Altruism: The Camaraderie Effect. Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience, Sep 7. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 27600591

Panksepp, JB and Lahvis GP. 2016. Differential influence of social versus isolate housing on vicarious fear learning in adolescent mice. Behavioral neuroscience130(2), 206.    

Lahvis, GP.; Panksepp, JB, BC Kennedy, CR Wilson, DK Merriman. 2015. Social conditioned place preference in the captive ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus): Social reward as a natural phenotype. Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol 129(3), Aug 2015, 291-303. PMCID: PMC4621271

Kennedy, BC, Panksepp, JB, Runckel, PA, and Lahvis, GP. 2012. Social influences on morphine conditioned place preference in adolescent BALB/cJ and C57BL/6J mice. Psychopharmacology 219(3) 923-932. PMCID: PMC3638792

Lahvis, GP, Alleva, E and Scattoni, M-L. 2011. Translating Mouse Vocalizations: Prosody and Frequency Modulation. Genes, Brain and Behavior. 10 (1) 4-16. PMC2936813

Kennedy, BC, Panksepp, JB, Wong, JC, Krause, EJ and Lahvis, GP. 2011. Age-dependent and strain-dependent influences of morphine on mouse social investigation behavior. BehaviouralPharmacology. 22(2):147-59. PMC4393249

Panksepp JB and Lahvis, GP. 2011. Rodent empathy and affective neuroscience. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. Special issue on Affective Neuroscience. 35(9): 1864–1875. PMC3183383

Bishop, SL and Lahvis, GP. 2011. The Autism Diagnosis in Translation: Shared Affect in Children and Mouse Models. Autism Research 4(5) 317–335. PMC3684385

Chen, Q, Panksepp, JB, and Lahvis, GP. 2009. Empathy is moderated by genetic background in mice. PLoS ONE. 2009;4(2):e4387. PMC2633046

Panksepp, JB, Wong, JC, Kennedy, BC, and Lahvis, GP. 2008. Social rhythms are moderated by genetic factors in adolescent mice. Behavioral Brain Research. 195: (2) 239-245. PMC2587215

Kelley, DJ, Davidson, RJ, Elliott, JL, Lahvis, GP, Yin, JCP, and Bhattacharyya, A. 2007. The cyclic AMP cascade is altered in the Fragile X Nervous system. PLoS ONE 2(9): e931. PMC1976557

Panksepp, JB and Lahvis, GP. 2007. Social reward among juvenile mice. Genes, Brain and Behavior. 6 (7), 661–671. PMC2040181

Panksepp JB, Jochman, K, Kim, JU, Koy, JJ, Wilson, ED, Chen, Q, Wilson CR and Lahvis, GP. 2007. Affiliative behavior, ultrasonic communication and social reward are influenced by genetic variation in adolescent mice. PLoS ONE. 2(4): e351. PMC1831495