Petting a dog is good for the human brain, new study finds

Petting a dog is good for the human brain, new study finds
Petting a dog is good for the human brain, new study finds
10 October, 14:54SciencePhoto: Audacy
Tactile contact with animals helps increase activity in parts of the brain associated with attention and emotional interactions.

Communication with a dog is not only subjectively pleasant, but also beneficial for the human brain, a new study by scientists from the University of Basel, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has shown. Petting an animal boosts activity in parts of our brains involved in managing social and emotional interactions, reports Science Alert.

In their small study involving 19 volunteers, the researchers used a non-invasive functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNRIS) device that helped measure activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex. Each participant during the experiment had the opportunity to stroke the Jack Russell Terrier, Golden Retriever and Goldendoodle. The increased brain activity that was observed during these moments indicated that the participants had increased mindfulness and emotional involvement.

Volunteers were also asked to "hang out" with a plush lion that had a heating pad inside that mimicked the warmth of a real animal. The activity of the prefrontal cortex also increased at this time, but not as significantly as when a real dog was at hand. "This indicates that interaction with a dog activates processes involving attention more strongly and causes more overt emotional arousal than non-living stimuli," the scientists report.

The researchers also found that the positive effects induced by dog interactions continued after the animal was taken away, and subsequent interactions had a kind of cumulative effect, boosting certain levels of brain activity higher and higher.

Previous research has shown that socializing with dogs can reduce stress by lowering high blood pressure and heart rate. Probably, in a similar way, dogs help a person manage their emotional state. This could be used in therapy with dogs on the one hand and people with depression and anxiety on the other.

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