Our study evaluated the effects on the prefrontal cortex, especially the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), of people when touching and stroking a real or soft toy cat, using functional near infrared spectroscopy. Thirty under-graduate students (10 males, 20 females) were recruited and performed three tactile tasks with a real cat and a soft toy cat using their right hand. They also filled in the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM), to measure their emotional responses, and the NEO-Five Factor Inventory, to assess their personalities. During the tactile interactions with the real cat, the integral values of oxygenated hemoglobin in the left IFG of the females were significantly greater than in the males. The valence scores of the SAM after the real cat-associated tasks in females were significantly higher than after the toy cat-associated tasks. Additionally, the number of times the females stroked the real cat was significantly positively correlated with the activation levels of the left IFG and the valence scores of the SAM. The activation levels of the left IFG in females were also positively correlated with neuroticism when stroking the real cat. Thus, in females, especially those with higher levels of neuroticism, touching/stroking the cat improved their mood. The effects of interacting with a cat may be different between the genders.
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