Dogs have FEELINGS too!

October 16th, 2013
Posted by | Posted in Science and Technology 1,585 views

feelingsA professor of neuroeconomics at a university in Georgia has discovered that dogs have emotion, just like humans.

Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, Atlanta, who has been testing the results of MRI scans on his dog’s brain, has discovered that our canine friends use the same part of the brain as humans to ‘feel’.

His initial goal was to determine how dogs’ brains work and what they think of humans, according to the New York Times.

By looking directly at their brains and bypassing the constraints of behaviourism, MRIs can tell humans about dogs’ internal states.

People usually do not enjoy MRI scans and you have to hold completely still during the procedure.

In conventional veterinary practice, animals are put under anaesthetic so they don’t move during a scan.

‘But that means they can’t study their brain functions, at least, not anything interesting like perception or emotion,’ says Berns.

He started training his own dog, Callie, a skinny black terrier mix from the southern Appalachians, to go into the MRI simulator he had built in his living room.

A dog runs in the park looking happyWith the help of his friend, Mark Spivak, a dog trainer, the dog learned to place her head in a custom-fitted chin rest and hold rock-still for up to 30 seconds.

After months of training and some trial-and-error at the real MRI scanner, they were rewarded with the first maps of brain activity and managed to determine which parts of her brain distinguished the scents of familiar and unfamiliar dogs and humans.

He found there was a striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.

The caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex and is rich in dopamine receptors.

In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money, according to Berns.

In dogs, the research found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food.

MRI dogThe caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view.

‘Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate,’ said Berns.

Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.

Berns believes this begs a change in the way humans think about dogs, which have long been considered property.

Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they solidified the view that animals are things — objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimise their suffering.

He suggest the idea that, since the Supreme Court has already included neuroscientific findings in some cases showing brain imaging to determine whether someone is mature in adolescence, then ‘perhaps someday we may see a case arguing for a dog’s rights based on brain-imaging findings’.

~ Courtesy of the Daily Mail

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