If you own a dog, you already know that petting a dog it can just boost your mood and give you a lift. Researchers recently set out to scientifically prove this by comparing what happens in the brain when a person is petting a dog or sitting next to it compared to petting a stuffed animal.
What they found is that when participants viewed and touched real dogs it led to increasingly high levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate and process social and emotional interactions. These findings appear in the Oct. 5 issue of PLOS ONE.
Researchers used infrared neuroimaging technology to measure what happened in the brains of 19 adults who viewed a dog, reclined with the same dog against their legs, or petted the dog. Participants then did the same thing with a stuffed furry lion, who was filled with a water bottle to mimic the temperature and weight of the dogs.
The study found that prefrontal brain activity was elevated when they interacted with real dogs. Also, brain activity increased each time the participants interacted with a real dog and the biggest impact came from petting.
This research may help clinicians design improved systems for animal-assisted therapy, per the study, but future studies are needed.