Mum’s Best Friend

(c) Sippanont Samchai

Coined as ‘Man’s Best Friend’ for centuries, canines are an undeniable part of modern human society – but are they more than just friends?

A new neuroimaging study from the Massachusetts General Hospital would seem to insinuate so. By placing 14 women in a brain scanner as they passively looked at photos of their young children, photos of their dogs, and photos of unfamiliar children and dogs – researchers found similar neural circuits were activated when looking at photos of their own children and dogs, but not for their unfamiliar counterparts. Importantly, many of these areas are involved in emotional attachment and reward processing – the amygdala, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, and the dorsal putamen, to name a few.

Whilst this may not come as a huge shock to anyone who, like me, has grown somewhat tired of overly affectionate dog owners, an interesting difference between familiar child and dog response highlighted an important aspect of human-animal interaction. Namely, the researchers found a greater activation in response to dogs in a region known as the fusiform gyrus – which is known to be heavily involved in face processing. This led the researchers to conclude that whilst language is primary in human-human communication; “facial cues may be a more central communication device for dog-human interaction.”

The article can be found in full here.

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Max Sanderson

Science Communicator & Neuroscientist

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