We think of dogs as part of our families, but does our brain?
It’s very easy to think of your dog as a child, you feed, bathe, discipline, clean up after and raise them after all. A study was performed by the Massachusetts General Hospital comparing the difference between brain activation in mothers seeing their child and seeing their dog. It has shown some incredible similarities and differences. The study only focused on women who had children aged two or older and a dog for over years.
Out of 16 women, complete data was gathered on 14. The tests were completed in two parts: one a home visit where a photo was taken and questionaires answered, the other at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging (a subsection of the Massachusetts General Hostpital). The women were shown images of their child, their dog, and images of unfamiliar dogs and children. While being shown these images their brains were scanned by an MRI machine. After the scans, they completed tests to ensure they were paying attention enough to allow proper brain stimulation.
What does this mean though?
Parts of the brain that were thought to be responsible for social interaction, reward, visual processing showed increased activity when they were shown pictures of their child and dog. This was unexpected. Areas known as the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (important for bond formation in all things, or so we thought) were only activated when photos of the child were shown. This was unexpected. The fusiform gyrus which is responsible for facial recognition and other visual tasks, showed greater response to images of the dogs than children.
Do our brains really consider dogs to be a family member?
A larger sample size is needed and far more exploring. While they are undeniably proof of a relationship between the ways our brains process seeing our families and pets, it only focuses on mothers of over two years. How do children born while a dog is in the family visually process a dog in comparison to a child who gets a puppy at age 5 or 10? Do men and women differ in these regards?
There’s so many questions to be answered. Science is the pursuit of knowledge, but with this new knowledge come new questions. Something we are all almost sure on; is that we love our dogs like family regardless of how we see them.
Tell us when you knew your dog was a part of the family. Pics of dogs looking after kids are always welcome.