Believe it or not, dogs have consciousness and feeling, and a brain scan study proves it. This is what we should know from now on.
Do dogs have feelings? Are animals capable of feeling empathy? The perception we have of animals is in a continuous process of change. However, the answer is yes, although little has been said about it.
What does science say about this? Stay until the end, because when you finish, your vision of them will change.
Awareness of animals and dogs
Both the scientific community and the legal world have been reluctant to accept that animals are beings that feel and suffer like any other person. Since not much was known about their minds, it was decided to ignore a richer and more complex world than is thought.
This decision does not correspond, however, with the perception that citizens have of animals. Associations in favor of animal rights, as well as political parties, firmly believe in the emotional intelligence of animals.
In Spain, the Congress of Deputies approved in December 2017 that they be considered «beings» subject to rights and not movable property. Little by little, we are advancing to change the perception we have of animals and their way of thinking;
A brain scan, the key to discovery
The notion that other animals can have feelings did not start to be considered for a while, but this research brought the discussion back. However, it is important to remember that other disciplines, such as philosophy, had also wondered about the consciousness in these animals, feelings, rights, etc.
Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns decided to focus his efforts on finding out if dogs can feel emotions. His idea was to train a series of specimens to be able to submit them to a brain scan.
Thanks to this test, Berns was able to map the animals’ brains and see how they responded to the different stimuli presented to them. The results appear in his book What It’s Like to Be a Dog.
A study published in the journal Science had already stated that dogs could process information in a similar way to humans.
In this test it was proven that his left hemisphere reacted to words, while his right hemisphere did so by the intonation with which they were pronounced.
The story of Callie, the first specimen subject of study
Callie, a female terrier mix, was adopted by Berns at a local shelter. He didn’t choose her for any particular reason; Callie was curious and, like many other terriers, she was full of energy.
In the first place, Berns decided to build a simulator in his house to accustom the animal to the typical noises that scanners usually make in a hospital. In order to do this, he recorded the sounds made by the magnets in the machines and played them back at home while he played with Callie.
The sounds of the machine were initially played at a very low volume, which Berns progressively raised; the process took between two and three months, and it turned out to be easier than expected.
With this first success, he opened the door for more horses to join the project.
A similar caudate nucleus in dogs and humans
The caudate nucleus is a structure present in the deepest part of the cerebral hemispheres. It is an element common to all species, especially mammals, and essential in dopamine reception.
The caudate nucleus is active at the moment in which the subject reaches the so-called ‘state of anticipation’: once the information is received, a decision-making process will take place by which it is determined what to do with it. If it is something positive, this state is more intense.
This brain structure is activated in a similar way both in dogs and in humans, and under the same conditions. The clear differences in size (the dog’s brain is the size of a lemon) mean, however, that they do not have the same capabilities as us.
So can dogs love us?
In the experiment, they were shown two objects. They had been trained to identify one of them with food and the other with the appearance of its owner saying «Good boy!». Some dogs preferred the former; others, the second.
There is no categorical answer in this regard. The reactions occurred in equal parts. The type of relationship they have developed with their master will make a difference.
Thus, dogs, like all other animals, have the ability to feel and it is time that we stop ignoring this condition that puts them next to us. Your heart and your feelings matter, and today that we can see it, we will no longer forget it.
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