January 2, 2015
There are a lot of crazy people out there who believe that their canine pets are their adopted children, enough so to announce it to the whole world with bumper stickers that say things like “Yes, I love my dogs as much as you love your children” and “My dogs are my only children,” but the fact is these people may not be as crazy as we may think they are.
Emotionally, humans and dogs have recently been proven to have more of a parent-child relationship than what was once thought. With the all-encompassing magic power of science, some clever dog-obsessed scientists have managed to turn a few dogs into people mentally by enhancing their emotions only slightly, using carefully placed electrodes behind their ears. The dogs then took the place of the children in the family, who were immediately put up for adoption.
Just kidding about that last part, of course. We’re not that close, but a recent neurological study has helped further understand the development of the human-canine bond.
Testing Mother-Child Bonding with Dogs
Through brain imaging, humans and animals were analyzed in a study that specifically explored the mother-child bond. The 16 participants in the study (which was conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital) had to be mothers of at least one child aged 2-10 years, and they also had to have a dog who had inhabited their house for at least 2 years.
The study involved two sessions, one in which the participants answered questionnaires with questions regarding the relationship between their dog and kids. Photographs were also taken. The second session involved an fMRI that detected the mother’s emotional response when seeing images of her own child and dog vs. those of other participants.
The scientists then rounded up all of the data in a big puddle of info and whipped up some results.
What were the results, you may ask. Well, the study found both similarities and differences in the participants’ reactions. To quote the study, “Areas previously reported as important for functions such as emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social interaction all showed increased activity when participants viewed either their own child or their own dog. A region known to be important to bond formation — the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SNi/VTA) — was activated only in response to images of a participant’s own child. The fusiform gyrus, which is involved in facial recognition and other visual processing functions, actually showed greater response to own-dog images than own-child images.”
Pretty weird, right? According to the study, this indicates that there’s more of a reliance on visual communication with animals than verbal communication with children, and this also reflects some evolutionary changes in people.
In short, we are beginning to understand more and more the connection between us and our canine friends.