Petting dogs may make even the grumpiest person more sociable, according to new research.
Researchers in Switzerland say seeing, feeling, and touching a dog boosts neurons in the pre-frontal cortex — the area of the brain that helps regulate emotional interactions.
The findings have implications for animal-assisted clinical therapy. Dogs often help people cope with stress and depression, so shedding light on the phenomenon could lead to the development of better treatments.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found the effect persists after the dogs are no longer present, but drops off when researchers replaced live dogs with stuffed animals.
The present study demonstrates that prefrontal brain activity in healthy subjects increased with a rise in interactional closeness with a dog or a plush animal, but especially in contact with the dog the activation is stronger. This indicates that interactions with a dog might activate more attentional processes and elicit stronger emotional arousal than comparable nonliving stimuli.