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Patterns of brain activation when mothers view their own child and dog: an fMRI study

By L. E. Stoeckel, L. S. Palley, R. L. Gollub, S. M. Niemi, A. E. Evins

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Neural substrates underlying the human-pet relationship are largely unknown. We examined fMRI brain activation patterns as mothers viewed images of their own child and dog and an unfamiliar child and dog. There was a common network of brain regions involved in emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social cognition when mothers viewed images of both their child and dog. Viewing images of their child resulted in brain activity in the midbrain (ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra involved in reward/affiliation), while a more posterior cortical brain activation pattern involving fusiform gyrus (visual processing of faces and social cognition) characterized a mother's response to her dog. Mothers also rated images of their child and dog as eliciting similar levels of excitement (arousal) and pleasantness (valence), although the difference in the own vs. unfamiliar child comparison was larger than the own vs. unfamiliar dog comparison for arousal. Valence ratings of their dog were also positively correlated with ratings of the attachment to their dog. Although there are similarities in the perceived emotional experience and brain function associated with the mother-child and mother-dog bond, there are also key differences that may reflect variance in the evolutionary course and function of these relationships.

Publication Title PLoS One
Volume 9
Issue 10
Pages e107205
ISBN/ISSN 1932-6203
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0107205
Author Address Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.Center for Comparative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adults
  2. Analysis
  3. Animal roles
  4. Animals
  5. Bonds
  6. Brain
  7. Children
  8. Dogs
  9. Females
  10. Humans
  11. Magnetic resonance imaging
  12. Males
  13. Maternal behavior
  14. Middle Aged Adults
  15. Mother-child interaction
  16. Pets and companion animals
  17. preschools
  18. Young Adult