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Petting a dog has the same beneficial effects on the brain as human socialization, study shows

We all love our animal friends and for many there is nothing better than sharing a moment of relaxation with a dog. So much so that a scientific study claims that interacting with a pet can be compared to interacting with human friends.

Credit: thuanvo/Pixabay

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In fact, according to this new research, petting our furry friends can even give us the same benefits as socializing, and the proof comes from our neurology. Previous studies have proven that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is a key region that is active during various aspects of socialization and in the processing of social interactions. The ability to understand what another person is thinking and to place oneself in relation to others is linked to this area of ​​our brain. This means that the frontal lobe is also important for studying the impact and effects of our human-animal interactions.

To conduct this study, participants first had interactions with real dogs, a 6-year-old female Jack Russell Terrier, a 4-year-old female Goldendoodle, and a 4-year-old Golden Retriever. They then interacted with a stuffed animal, a stuffed lion called Leo, which had a hot water bottle inserted into it to simulate the feel of soft fur, the animal’s body temperature and the weight of a dog.

The researchers measured oxygenated, deoxygenated and total hemoglobin as well as blood oxygen saturation in the frontal lobe of the participants’ brains to assess their brain activity while in physical contact with the real animals. They then measured the same during interactions with the stuffed lion. The comparison of the results obtained revealed a greater activation of this part of the brain related to social life when the study participants interacted with the real dogs, compared to that of the toy lion.

Credit: Xan Griffin / Unsplash

Dogs, real social actors

According to scientists, interacting with an animal is an emotionally relevant and important social event. This type of research also highlights the value of animals. There are many people whose opportunities for regular social contact are reduced, such as the elderly, people with cognitive differences and the homeless. “Incorporating animals into therapeutic interventions could therefore be a promising approach to improve emotional involvement and attention” explain the researchers.

In conclusion, the evidence suggests that spending more time with your dog is just as good as spending time with other people you love.

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