Photo courtesy of http://www.dogtrainingclassroom.com/dogs-and-kids.html
One of my best friends has a tiny Chihuahua that goes everywhere with her family, and sometimes I feel like her mom almost loves the dog more than her (it’s creepy I know). Turns out I may be right. A recent study released by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the differences in brain activity of women when looking at pictures of their dog an then their own child.
Lori Palley, co-lead author of the report explained that, “Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting (This).”
Palley started the experiment by finding a group of women that fit certain requirements in order to be able to compare the brain activity patterns involved in a human-pet bond and maternal-child bond. Participants were required to be a woman that had a child aged 2-10 years old and own a dog for two years or longer. The next step was laying the participants on a scanner to look at photographs as functional magnetic resonance imaging was carried out. The photos displayed were of the women’s own child, dog, and then an unknown child (This).
The results were quite interesting. They found that parts of the brain that were previously linked to emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social interaction were engaged when the participant was viewing her own dog and child. They found that the part of the brain that is important to bond formation lit up when viewing one’s own child, and the fusiform gyrus, which is involved with facial recognition, showed a greater response to own-dog images than to own-child images (This).
Luke Stoeckel, co-lead author of the PLOS ONE report explained that the results, “suggest there is a common brain network important for pair-bond formation and maintenance that is activated when mothers viewed images of either their child or their dog (This).”
I think this study is pretty magnificent. For the most part, the experiment is pretty solid. It is an actual experiment because they were measuring data and collecting information, so they actually have something to prove. Reverse causation is ruled out, and most confounding variables are as well. By requiring such a specific group of individuals to be involved with the study, they eliminate a large amount of confounding variables. The only thing I couldn’t find was the sample size of participants, and that would have been useful information to know.
In conclusion I was very pleased with the way the experiment was carried out, and the methods used to collect the data. Now I want to know if this theory applies to how I feel about my gerbils…..
“This Is Your Brain on Dogs.” This Is Your Brain on Dogs. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20140904052646.shtml>.