Science has given you another reason to pet your dog (or cat). It helps your brain.
A recent study supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation shows that when you pet a dog is charges up the frontal cortex of your brain, the part that oversees how we think and feel.
“We chose to investigate the frontal cortex because this brain area is involved in several executive functions, such as attention, working memory, and problem-solving. But it is also involved in social and emotional processes,” said study lead author Rahel Marti, a doctoral student in the division of clinical psychology and animal-assisted interventions at the University of Basel in Switzerland, told CNN.
The study shows that human-animal therapy can support cognitive and emotional activity in the brain.
Marti continued: “If patients with deficits in motivation, attention, and socioemotional functioning show higher emotional involvement in activities connected to a dog, then such activities could increase the chance of learning and of achieving therapeutic aims.”
Researchers used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in the study, which is a portable brain scanner that provides flexibility since it’s functional in natural settings and not limited to a closed room in a lab. The technique measures brain activity via oxygen saturation of the blood in the brain, according to KVIA.
The study team fitted each of 19 participants with the scanner and asked them to observe and interact with one of three live dogs: a Jack Russell terrier, a goldendoodle and a golden retriever. First, study participants watched the dog from across the room. Then the dog sat next to them. Finally, each person was allowed to pet the dog. This process occurred twice more at later dates.
In other sessions, each person repeated the same sequence with a plush stuffed lion that contained a hot water bottle to simulate the body temperature of a live dog. In each of the scenarios, brain stimulation rose as the dog or stuffed animal moved closer.
“We found that brain activity increased when the contact with the dog or a plush animal became closer. This confirms previous studies linking closer contact with animals or control stimuli with increased brain activation,” Marti said.
As the below video shows, dogs really are man’s best friend.
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Some cat lovers have written in to Jolt of Joyful to tell us that we’re leaving out cats, which we’d never do on purpose. In fact, a study has also shown that cats can help relieve stress.
A Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine study “used university students (who are notoriously stressed) as subjects found that petting cats and dogs for 10 minutes decreased the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their saliva. These findings are consistent with the notion that interacting with cats and dogs decreases stress.”