The New York Times a few days ago published an opinion piece (“Dogs Are People, Too”) by Gregory Berns, a professor at Emory University and author of How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain. Berns and fellow researchers have been using an M.R.I. scanner to look at the brain activity of conscious dogs, in an effort to better understand the canine brain and how dogs might think and feel.
There was some publicity about these studies more than a year ago, and in fact it was also covered in this space back then. At the time, I felt that the most amazing thing about the whole story was the fact that dogs had been successfully trained to stay absolutely stock still in an M.R.I. machine while it was noisily operating (and indeed while they were reacting to signals from the researchers for one thing or another in order to view their corresponding brain activity). Anyone who has had to bring a pet to get an x-ray or any other kind of scan would know that they are always anesthetized for such examinations in order to ensure that they will not move and so ruin the pictures. This makes the whole thing a much bigger deal for the animal, not to mention significantly more expensive for the paying human. Perhaps all dogs should be trained while they’re young to stay still for scans. And cats too. And turtles!
As far as the actual results of the research go, Professor Berns believe he has demonstrated based on their brain activity that dogs experience pleasurable anticipation when they are offered an edible treat, and also when they are given evidence (olfactory or otherwise) that their owner is nearby. This is based on activity in the area of the caudate nucleus. Continue reading Are Dogs Only Human, After All?