Mothers have similar reactions to pets and children

accreditation
Woman and dog from Shutterstock
Woman and dog from Shutterstock

Brain scans are helping scientists better understand the bond between people and their beloved pets.

Women's brain activity

The study included 14 women who had at least one child between the ages of 2 and 10 and one dog that had been in the household for two or more years. Imaging technology called functional MRI was used to monitor the women's brain activity as they looked at photos of their children and their dogs.

Brain areas associated with emotion, reward, relationships and social interaction showed increased activity when the women saw the pictures of their children and their pets. A brain area involved in facial recognition and other visual processing functions showed greater response to their dogs than to their children.

Read: Separation anxiety affects dogs

However, a brain region involved in forming bonds with others became active only when the women saw photos of their children, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study published in the journal PLoS One.

"Pets hold a special place in many people's hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional well-being of humans," study co-lead author Dr. Lori Palley, of the MGH Centre for Comparative Medicine, said in a hospital news release.

Neurobiological basis

Previous studies have found that levels of hormones such as oxytocin – which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment – rise after interaction with pets, she said. "And new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting," she added.

Read: Dog owners more active

Study co-lead author Luke Stoeckel acknowledged this is a small study that might not apply to a larger group of people. Still, "the results suggest there is a common brain network important for pair-bond formation and maintenance that is activated when mothers viewed images of either their child or their dog," Stoeckel said in the news release.

The researchers said the similarities and differences in brain activity revealed by functional neuroimaging could eventually help explain the complexities underlying human-animal relationships.

Additional, larger studies are needed to replicate these findings and to see if they also occur in other groups of people, such as fathers, women without children, and parents of adopted children, and with other types of pets, they added.

Read more:

Toddlers vs. pets
Dogs help babies crawl
Dogs 'catch' owners' yawns

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
17% - 214 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
8% - 103 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
68% - 840 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
7% - 85 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.62
-0.0%
Rand - Pound
20.08
-0.1%
Rand - Euro
16.94
+0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.59
+0.1%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.1%
Gold
1,786.37
-0.2%
Silver
20.69
+0.1%
Palladium
2,203.50
-1.8%
Platinum
945.50
+0.1%
Brent Crude
96.65
+1.8%
Top 40
63,771
0.0%
All Share
70,266
0.0%
Resource 10
65,045
0.0%
Industrial 25
85,829
0.0%
Financial 15
15,741
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE