All you dog owners know the answer to this question without having scientific proof, right? You love your pet unconditionally and you just “know” they feel the same. Or are we just projecting our human emotions like love and empathy onto our pets? Are they really just instinctual creatures that care only about food and survival?
One researcher set out to answer this question and came to the conclusion that yes, dogs do feel emotions like love.
Dr. Gregory Berns, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University trained a dozen dogs to sit still in an MRI machine. These first-ever brain scans of non-sedated dogs allowed us to see what actually happened in the dogs brain when they were given scents of their humans. What they saw was the activity in the dog’s caudate brain region increased.
So, what exactly is the caudate region (shown above)?
Well, it’s a region that’s responsible for learning and memory deep in the brain, below conscious awareness. In humans, it lights up in anticipation of things we enjoy, such as food, love and money.
Obviously human brains are much more complex than dog brains with a more complicated network of parts, chemicals and reactions. And we have many different types of love that affect different parts of our brain: maternal love, romantic love, companion love, passionate love.
So which type of love makes the caudate light up in humans? Researchers found the caudate was especially active in people who scored highly on a questionnaire measuring passionate love.
Also, along with other parts of the brain, the caudate lights up in response to photos of their beloved in people who are “intensely in love.”
So, can we conclude that dogs are feeling intense, passionate love?
I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to assume that they are feeling something. Maybe not in the same way, with the same chemical cocktail, but they obviously do have feelings. Whether we call them love, passion, devotion, empathy… those are just labels. What’s important is that they are feeling something.
No, they don’t have the brain capacity to write us love poems. But, they do have the brain capacity to to be happy when we walk in the room, to stay near us when we’re sad or sick, and to give us affection.
Isn’t this the behavior of love?