Jonathan Haidt and Gary D. Sherman conducted a study at Harvard University, which concluded that people who like animals more than people are the ones having a conversation with their pets. These people are also really intelligent.
When asked about their pets, most dog owners will tell you that they are the most fantastic thing in the world. Pet owners will tell you with absolute certainty that their dog loves them. However, can dogs feel positive emotions such as love that us humans do? Many scientists have been asking this question for a long time. Anyone can see the excitement of a dog when their owner returns home but is that the sign of love, or the return of their walking talking food machine?
Gregory Berns conducted research which will change the way people view dogs. Berns found that dogs have similar emotions as humans by performing an MRI scan on dozen of dogs. He found that the brain region responsible for positive emotion in humans is activated in dogs.
Scientists rely on the behaviour of animals to conclude their neurological traits. Dogs cannot communicate with us and tell us what or how they feel, making this science a difficult for researchers. Although, by using brain scans, scientists have bypassed communicating to get more information.
To perform an MRI on an animal, they need to stay completely still. This performance is challenging since the machine that conducts the MRI are claustrophobic, racketing, and unpleasant even for humans. Usually, veterinarians have to put the dog on anesthesia before making those brain scans. However, to monitor the emotion of the dogs, they need to be active and not on anesthesia.
To perform the first wake dog MRI, Berns needed to train dogs using painstaking reward exercises for them to stay still in the MRI machine. The machine scanned the dog’s brain activity for two hand signals which the dogs associate with food. They also tested scents of unfamiliar and familiar humans and dogs.
The caudate nucleus is the one critical region that both the human and dog brain have a significant similarity in structure and function. The caudate is what gives us a positive emotion. It’s located between the cortex and the brainstem and is rich in dopamine.
Berns stated in an article for the New York Times that “Many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.”
When the dog sensed the smell of familiar humans and saw the hand signs that they associate with food, their caudate activity increased. Additionally, in the first conducted tests, the caudate activated on the return of their owner who momentarily stepped out of their view. This function is called homology by the neuroscientists, and it is an indication of emotion in dogs.
“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child, and this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.
DOGS have long been considered property. Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and state laws raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they solidified the view that animals are things — objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering.
But now, by using the MRI. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives) seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.”