- A new study measured the effects of petting the dog upon human brain activity.
- Dogs have previously been shown to reduce stress, but the particular neurological mechanisms haven’t been studied.
- Many current and potential therapies incorporate the use associated with animals, especially dogs.
It’s long been said that dogs are “man’s best friend. ”
Now, a new
Researchers recruited 19 healthy adults (9 women and 10 men) to have their mind activity measured over several sessions, both with and without being in the presence of a dog.
The researchers stated the results could improve the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapies used to treat many conditions, including:
So how was the research performed? And what were the outcomes?
Previous studies into the physiological effects that dogs have on humans often used imaging technology such as PET scans — no, not that type of pet but positron emission topography .
While imaging scans have a variety of medical uses, they do have some drawbacks in a study such as this one. They can be loud, and lengthy, and participants may need to remain still.
These are not really characteristics that will generally pair well with dogs, so previous research frequently utilized pictures of dogs as stand-ins.
In this study, researchers opted to use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Two electrodes were placed on participants’ foreheads in order to measure prefrontal cortex activity.
This area of the brain plays an important role inside social cognitive processing.
Participants were measured first in a neutral state, facing a white wall. Then measurements had been taken because contact with the dog was progressively introduced.
First, the particular participants could see the dog, then sit beside it, plus finally dog it before returning to a natural state. None of the particular participants had any dog allergies or phobias.
These measurements were taken across 6 sessions for each participant: 3 with a dog, and a few with a plush animal. The particular plush held a hot water bottle within it to give it more weight and warmth.
Three actual dogs were used, all females ages 4 to 6. There was a Jack Russel, a goldendoodle, and a golden retriever.
The results showed that human brain activity increased substantially through the progressive phases of the experiment plus oxygenated hemoglobin remained elevated (indicating improved activity) even after the dog left.
The particular plush experienced similar effects but only at first. Researchers mentioned that since participants returned for more sessions, the particular difference inside brain exercise between dog and plush sessions significantly increased.
This study found a novel application regarding fNIRS, but is this a good tool for the job?
Yes, it is, according to Dr. David A. Merrill , a psychiatrist as well as the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Wellness Center within California.
“fNIRS is valid. There are decades’ worth of research using the technique measuring brain activity. [It] affords the view into the mind based on blood oxygenation without the need intended for a big, immobile scanner, ” Merrill told Healthline.
Jen Summers , PsyD, an utilization review specialist in Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health, told Healthline she agreed the fNIRS is a valid measurement tool but noted other areas she would like to see explored in more detail.
As a good example, Dr . Summers pointed out that Labradors are the most common dog breed to get therapeutic visitation animals, yet none had been included in this study.
“The research participants were ‘healthy subjects, ’ however, the study did not define ‘healthy. ’ It might be curious for future research to determine if individuals with known medical conditions (i. e. anemia, autoimmune diseases, or even anyone with noted deficits within oxygenated hemoglobin) would have increased frontal human brain activation compared to their baseline, ” said Summers.
Putting these study results to work is of interest across the medical community.
Doctor Joey R. Gee , a neurologist with Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline that dog-assisted therapies are usually “valuable for many chronic disorders and may be employed in settings where ‘calming’ is needed, like with children and in long-term care facilities. ”
“Pets such as canines can and should be considered as an important therapeutic option for patients of all ages going through any number of physical or mental health issues, ” he said.
Experts noted that one interesting aspect associated with the study was the particular increased effect of multiple sessions with a dog.
“Exposure and experience foster familiarity. Psychology studies have consistently demonstrated how the mere exposure effect influences a familiarity preference: we prefer things we are familiar with versus those which are novel, ” said Summers.
“This certainty and comfort are undoubtedly bidirectional such that not only do we respond more positively, your dog also tends to react more favorably to people they are bonded to securely, ” said Merrill.