Exploring the neurobiological underpinnings of human-dog interaction benefits

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In a new study from Konkuk University in South Korea, published in PLOS One, researchers have uncovered that engaging in specific activities with dogs can increase brain activity in areas associated with relaxation, emotional stability, attention, and concentration.

Moreover, such interactions can lead to a decrease in stress and foster positive emotional responses. This intriguing discovery adds a scientific backing to the age-old bond between humans and dogs, suggesting that our furry companions could play a key role in improving mental health and cognitive functions.

The motivation behind this study stems from the growing evidence of the health benefits derived from human-animal interactions, particularly with dogs. Previous research has highlighted that spending time with dogs can increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and stress relief, and decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, contributing to lower risks of cardiovascular diseases.

Despite the wealth of knowledge on the general benefits of animal-assisted interventions, there’s been a lack of specific research into how different types of activities with dogs affect psychological and physiological responses. This study aims to fill that gap by investigating the impact of various dog-related activities on the human brain and subjective mood.

The research team recruited 30 participants, ranging from 20 to 40 years old, through advertisements placed in pet salons and a dog beauty academy. To participate, individuals had to be free from allergies to dogs, cynophobia (fear of dogs), significant health conditions, and pregnancy. They were also asked to refrain from consuming stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before the experiment. This selection process was vital to minimizing external factors that could influence the study’s outcomes.

The experimental setup was designed to provide a controlled environment that would mimic natural interactions with dogs while minimizing distractions and external noise. The activities took place in an independent office space, specifically prepared to ensure a consistent and suitable environment for the study. The activities included meeting, playing, feeding, massaging, grooming, photography, hugging, and walking with a dog. Following each activity, participants completed mood questionnaires.

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