After scanning the brains of dogs, a scientist argues that they have emotions

October 28, 2013
Canine brains
Do dogs have emotions?
“How Dogs Love Us” by Gregory Berns

Gregory Berns, an Emory University professor of neuroeconomics, normally studies the brains of people, using fMRI scans to figure out which stimuli motivate them. A news item about a bomb-sniffing dog got him wondering about canines: why they do what they do with and for us. Is it all about food? Or do they love us?

In an attempt to answer these questions, Berns trained two dogs — one of them his own adopted dog Callie — to enter a scanning machine and stay still. While inside the scanner, the dogs were shown hand signals that indicated whether they were about to get something yummy (a slice of a hot dog) or not. (A video of the training is viewable on YouTube.) The results: the first-ever brain scans of non-sedated dogs, allowing a picture of brain activity, and the revelation that a brain region that in humans lights up in anticipation of something pleasurable also lights up in dogs when they are told that a hot dog is coming. It also responds when the dogs are given scents of their humans.


Researcher Gregory Berns trained dogs to lie down in an fMRI device with their heads in a stabilizer. (From Gregory Berns)

People who don’t love dogs might not accept this as evidence of very much. But as Berns lays out his case, using the science and his interactions at home with Callie, you may be persuaded that while dogs definitely like hot dogs, they may not be that different from humans in anticipating and wanting other good things — such as the love of people.

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