The Amazing Thing Dogs Do To Our Brains 

A new study from the University of Basel in Switzerland shows that interacting with dogs increases activity in the prefrontal cortex. What does this mean for dog lovers, dog owners, or those who need a little boost in motivation?

The Study

Twenty one participants interacted with a dog or a stuffed animal. Researchers measured blood flow in the frontal lobe as participants played with one of the three brave dogs; a Jack Russel, a Goldendoodle, and a Golden Retriever (names not disclosed). Participants were hooked up to heart rate monitors and electrodermal activity sensors to track nerve-ending activation in the skin.

The study showed that interactions with dogs increased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex more than playing with a stuffed animal or doing nothing at all. The prefrontal cortex is the part of one’s brain that controls social functioning and complex thinking. It also is involved with attention, memory, cognitive flexibility, and higher-order mental tasks. Some say this area of the brain controls the things that make us human.

Dogs and Mental Health

This is not the first study that proves that interacting with dogs can improve mental health. Another study showed that students’ anxiety is lowered and their mood is elevated upon either petting a dog or watching videos of dogs – which explains the popular trend of therapy dogs on college campuses during finals. Dog owners are less likely to have heart disease, and their blood pressure is lower than non-dog owners.

Additionally, PsyPost reports that current research indicates that interacting with animals could raise “feel-good” neurochemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin. These chemicals are also scientifically proven to be triggered in your dog’s brain as well – namely, endorphins associated with bonding and feelings of closeness. 

What This Study Means for You

Whether you’re a dog owner or just someone who needs help harnessing your brainpower, our canine friends can come to the rescue. The University of Basel study concludes that these findings could actually inform how therapy dogs are used and what dogs might be able to help us with in life. 

“If patients with deficits in motivation, attention, and socioemotional functioning show higher emotional involvement in activities connected to a dog,” the study says, “then such activities could increase the chance of learning and therapeutic aims.”

If activation of the prefrontal cortex can teach us how to control mood, attention, and memory, and dogs activate our prefrontal cortexes, then the conclusion is pretty clear. Think about how we interact with dogs: we treat them like sweet and helpless creatures that require our care and protection, like little children who need someone to take care of them. Consequently, it’s safe to say that dogs can teach us to maintain focus, think critically, and keep our attitudes in check. So whether you have a dog of your own or a friend’s dog is your fur baby, go out and give it some love – your brain will thank you.

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