Animal Mind-Reading

May 8, 2012

Brit Trogen



Next to flying and invisibility, the power to talk to animals is one of my top goals in life. And since the science is well underway on the first two (Flying car or invisibility cloak, anyone?), why shouldn't it reveal the key to the third?


Of course, it has.


In a new study published in PLOS One, researcher Gregory Berns (AKA Dr. DoLittle) managed to conduct brain scans of fully awake, unrestrained dogs. The experiment subjects, Callie (a "feist") and McKenzie (border collie), were trained to walk into an fMRI machine, hold very still, and watch a series of hand signals, some of which indicated they would recieve a hot-dog treat.


In terms of offering a window into doggie thoughts, Berns described the scans as being unlike anything else he had ever seen. On seeing the "treat" signal, the caudate region of the canine brain (the part associated with rewards) showed a high level of activity, remaining inactive when the "no treat" signal was flashed. Though perhaps not surprising, these results suggest that human actions and signals may be directly wired into dogs' reward pathways.



This is only the first of a series of experiments to illuminate the minds of our four-legged BFF's. But already we're beginning to get a sense of the biological basis for the deep connection that exists between our two species... Not to mention our shared love of hot-dog treats.


And while this may not seem important in more than a superficial way, it's possible that these studies could offer some very deep insights into the way our own species has evolved. For example, in the way we have learned to connect with and care for other species, something other animals only rarely do.


As it so often does, learning more about other animals may, ultimately, teach us more about ourselves.



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