Graduate Studies Faculty

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Garet Lahvis, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
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 squirrel alarm calls, sea lion social interactions, self-recognition, autism, eye-gaze, facial expression, imitation, story telling, children, » PubMed Listing
Preceptor Rotations
Academic Term Available Winter 2015 Yes Fall 2016 Yes Winter 2016 Yes Spring 2016 Yes Fall 2017 Yes Winter 2017 Yes Spring 2017 Yes
Faculty Mentorship
Dr. Lahvis is available as a mentor for 2016-2017. Dr. Lahvis is available as a mentor for 2015-2016.

Mammals communicate, referencing what we sense in the external environment, an arrival of a friend or a predator, and signaling our emotions: anger, fear, joy, and indifference. For humans and other free-living mammals, abilities to express these signals, detect them in others, and interpret them correctly, is essential for our wellbeing and survival. Our laboratory studies adolescent social signals in several species of mammals, including mice, sea lions, ground squirrels, and children.

Using cue-conditioned fear experiments our laboratory discovered empathy in juvenile mice: “an affective state more appropriate to the situation of another compared to one’s own.” Using conditioned place preference, we also found that young mice derive pleasure from living with their adolescent peers.

Our experiments have also stepped outside the lab, into the field.  Laboratory animals are deprived of social refuge, freedom to explore novel objects and environments, and opportunities to make decisions that come with rewarding and aversive consequences, what are natural life experiences relevant to human experience. Since cage restrictions constrain our ability to understand healthy social-emotional development, we study social maturation, communication and the neural development in recovering adolescent California sea lions and free-range and adolescent ground squirrels. We study squirrels because, like humans, they sense their environment predominantly through visual and auditory cues. We discovered that captive ‘asocial’ ground squirrels find rewarding assess to social living.  Through lab and field study of squirrels, we identified a putative ‘camaraderie effect,’ a proximal mechanism for altruism whereby helping others improves access to social rewards that in turn, promotes one’s own physiological health. Through comparative studies across juvenile mammals, we have gained unique insights to social motivation and cognitive functions. 

We also study how children with and without autism respond to social situations.  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.

Selected papers listed below:

Social conditioned place preference in the captive ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus): Social reward as a natural phenotype. 2015. Lahvis, Garet P.; Panksepp, Jules B.; Kennedy, Bruce C.; Wilson, Clarinda R.; Merriman, Dana K. 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