Interacting with Dogs Increases Brain Activity, Study Finds

There are so many benefits to owning and being around dogs. Aside from relieving stress, encouraging exercise, and filling our hearts with joy, a recent study found that interacting with dogs increases brain activity.

Researchers are intrigued by the mental and physical impacts dogs have on their humans. They are after all man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Countless studies have been done to see how dogs improve our health, ease anxiety and depression, and so much more.

A study published in PLUS ONE examined how spending time with dogs impacts frontal brain activity. This is an area that has not been overly researched, yet.

Photo: Pexels/Alice Castro

Rahel Marti and a team of other researchers explained, “Interacting with an animal is a social situation that is emotionally relevant to most people. Several reviews have identified the prefrontal cortex as the key region for different aspects of social cognitive processing, such as theory of mind/mentalizing and understanding self and others. Activity in the prefrontal cortex is thus important for investigating the underlying mechanisms of human–animal interactions.”

Twenty-one individuals took part in the trial that examined their brain activity when they were in the presence of a dog and when they made contact. The study was divided into four phases and the contact with the dog increased at each phase. There were three sessions with a dog and three control sessions with a plush animal.

The dogs used in the study were comfortable with human contact because they were trained to work in a hospital setting. All three dogs were female and were comprised of a six-year-old Jack Russell, four-year-old goldendoodle, and a four-year-old golden retriever.

Photo: Pixabay/Sabrina St.

The plush animal was a lion named “Leo” who had a warm water bottle placed inside to resemble body temperature and weight of a dog.

Researchers measured, “oxygenated, deoxygenated, and total hemoglobin and oxygen saturation of the blood in the frontal lobe/frontopolar area with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (SenSmart Model X-100) to assess brain activity.”

What they found may come as no surprise.

Researchers expected the results to show significantly increased brain activity with the dog over the plush animal, but it turns out that even holding the plush animal had some effect on the participants.

Photo: Pexels/Breno Cardoso

According to the study, “Prefrontal brain activation in healthy subjects increased with the rise in interaction closeness with a dog or a plush animal. Moreover, interaction with a dog stimulated more brain activity compared to the control condition, suggesting that interactions with a dog can activate stronger attentional processes and elicit more emotional arousal than interacting with a nonliving stimulus.”

This proves once again that dogs are beneficial to our overall health. People who own dogs are happier, healthier, and tend to live longer lives. Make the best decision of your life and adopt a dog from your local shelter!

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