Scott lecture shares insight into human motivation

BOWLING GREEN, O.—How a person experiences social interaction can play an important role in risk-taking and drug abuse and in conditions such as autism. A leading researcher on the genetic aspect of social interaction will give the 10th annual J.P. Scott Memorial Lecture at Bowling Green State University on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

Dr. Garet Lahvis, a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health and Science University, will speak on “The Genetics of Social Reward: Can a Mouse Enjoy the Presence of a Companion, and What May It Reveal About Human Motivations?” at 6:30 p.m. in 101 Olscamp Hall. A reception will precede his talk, which is free and open to the public.

Can an animal find the presence of a companion socially rewarding and even detect its emotional state? According to Lahvis, “such questions have long been familiar to philosophers and they are now relevant in medical research. Among humans, experiences of social anticipation or reward contribute to adolescent risk-taking behavior. Deficits in shared social enjoyment are featured in autism. To understand the genetic mechanisms that influence social experience, mice are an ideal species for research. The mouse genome has been extensively sequenced, and genetic mutations can be precisely targeted. But how does a mouse experience a social interaction?

“My lab observes mice as they move through a variety of novel testing structures, and we find that genetic factors and diurnal (daily) rhythms can influence the levels of social reward that young mice experience. When we examine the high-pitched vocalizations of juvenile mice during social interactions, we find they make distinct calls that vary with their genetic heritage.”

Lahvis completed his undergraduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University in 1983. He continued his interests in behavioral ecology at the University of Michigan, studying optimal deer flight responses from coyotes at the National Bison Range. He has a master’s degree in toxicology and a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Maryland. After completing postdoctoral training in genetics, Lahvis returned to the study of animal behavior, with a specific interest in how genetic and chemical influences moderate social motivation and recognition. His work is highly relevant to revealing the mechanisms of autism and adolescent drug abuse, and is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The annual J.P. Scott Memorial Lecture is sponsored by the J.P. Scott Center for Neuroscience. Founded in 1999, the center is a group of faculty, postdoctoral associates, graduate and undergraduate students actively studying the dynamic relationships between the nervous system and behavior, with an explicit focus on integrating behavioral research with other sub-disciplines of the neurosciences.

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(Posted October 20, 2008 )