PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new study confirms what dog owners have always known: Dogs have feelings, too.
In the study, researcher Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, trained two dogs to undergo MRIs while awake and unrestrained. He and his colleagues then used hand signals – one that indicated a food reward and one that indicated no reward – while measuring the dog's brain activity.
According to Berns, what the study's authors discovered was that the structure and function of the caudate nucleus is similar in both dogs and humans. In humans, the caudate activates when we anticipate things we enjoy, such as food or spending time with a loved one.
"In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view," Berns writes in an article entitled "Dogs Are People, Too" for the New York Times. "Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate."
While more research is needed, Berns alleges that if dogs are found to be capable of human emotions like love and attachment, it could have huge impacts on animal welfare laws.
In the meantime, dog lovers everywhere will continue to believe that our canine companions love us as much as we love them.
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