Neuroscience Uncovers Emotions of 'Man's Best Friend'

First Posted: Oct 08, 2013 01:04 PM EDT

A recent study shows that there's a reason why dog's get the nickname 'man's best friend.'

Scientists have found, in fact, that dogs show emotion similar to humans. When a team of neuroscientists studied the reactions of happy and sad dogs via brain scans, they found that dogs even cry like humans and get excited just like children.

Animals in general are also much smarter than we give them credit for. For instance, the study notes that when shelters kill dogs that are unable to be adopted within a certain amount of time, this tremendously disturbs the masses of other dogs living in the community, and they look to the act as murder.

According to lead study author Gregory Berns of Emory University, he and team members used M.R.I. (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners to study a group of dogs and their brain activity when presented with different human smells. All of the pets let themselves voluntarily be scanned for short periods of time without any anesthetics. Berns explained that anesthesia prevents scientists from studying the nuances of dogs' brain functions as it blocks the perceptions of emotion.

"From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons," Berns  said, via the New York Times. "We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child's consent form but signed by the dog's owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn't want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer."

Bern's studied his own dog's activity, Camille, who he trained to sit calmly in the M.R.I. machine for a period of 30 minutes. The results showed similar emotions to humans in a key region of the brain known as the caudate nucleus. This area plays an important role in learning and memories, such as anticipation of rewards and joy in humans.

For instance, when Camille smelled familiar humans, her caudate nucleus lit up. Smells played a major role in how dogs processed the world around them and the feelings they had.

More information regarding the study can be found via "How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain."

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