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Need a brain boost? Pet your dog

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Dogs have a unique ability to understand emotions like no other animal. But that’s not all. Scientists discovered they play another critical role in a person’s health.

According to research published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS One, scientists now know the emotional support dogs provide also has a positive chemical effect on a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for processing a person’s emotions and ability to interact with others.

Scientists in Switzerland put 19 people in six different scenarios, three with a stuffed animal dog and three with a live dog, while they measured the participants’ brain activity. 

First, participants were told to look at a dog. Then, each participant sat on a chair with a dog they were not allowed to pet. Finally, they were told to sit with the dog and pet it. Researchers repeated the experiment using a stuffed animal dog.

Results showed brain activity was highest when they petted the real dogs. 

“The present study demonstrates that prefrontal cortex brain activity in healthy subjects increased with a rise in interactional closeness with a dog or plush animal, but especially in contact with the dog the activation is stronger,” Dr. Rahel Marti from the University of Switzerland and lead author, said in a news release. “This indicates that interactions with dogs might activate more attentional processes and elicit stronger emotional arousal than comparable nonliving stimuli.”