Why touching a dog can help you reduce stress and depression

Credit: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi/ Pexels.

In a study from the University of Basel, scientists found that viewing, feeling, and touching real dogs leads to increasingly higher levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

They found that this effect persists after the dogs are no longer present, but is reduced when real dogs are replaced with stuffed animals.

The findings have implications for animal-assisted clinical therapy.

Because interacting with animals, particularly dogs is known to help people cope with stress and depression, researchers think that a better understanding of the associated brain activity could help clinicians design improved systems for animal-assisted therapy.

The prefrontal cortex might be particularly relevant because it helps regulate and process social and emotional interactions.

In the study, the team measured activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain as 19 men and women each viewed a dog, reclined with the same dog against their legs, or petted the dog.

Each of these conditions was also performed with Leo, a stuffed lion with fur that was filled with a water bottle to match the temperature and weight of the dogs.

The team showed that prefrontal brain activity was greater when participants interacted with the real dogs and that this difference was largest for petting, which was the most interactive condition.

Another key difference was that prefrontal brain activity increased each time people interacted with the real dog.

This was not observed with successive interactions with the stuffed lion, indicating that the response might be related to familiarity or social bonding.

The team found future studies will be needed to examine the issue of familiarity in detail and whether petting animals can trigger a similar boost of prefrontal brain activity in patients with socioemotional deficits.

The present study shows that prefrontal brain activity in healthy subjects increased with a rise in interactional closeness with a dog or a plush animal, but especially in contact with the dog the activation is stronger.

This indicates that interactions with a dog might activate more attentional processes and elicit stronger emotional arousal than comparable nonliving stimuli.

If you care about depression, please read studies about mindfulness therapy that could benefit people with depression, and this depression drug can improve cognitive function quickly.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that eating too much sugar may lead to dangerous mental problems, and results showing Ketamine strongly reduces depression and suicide.

The study was conducted by Rahel Marti et al and published in PLOS ONE.

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