Tag: psychology today
A couple of Psychology Today bloggers are arguing over whether dogs can indeed soothe the savage breast — or at least help keep the heart that’s ticking inside of it from imploding.
We’re not a scientist — we’re not even a we – but it’s our firm belief that dogs lower blood pressure, unlike blogs, which raise it.
So, in our view, Alex Korb and Hal Herzog, the dueling bloggers, would both be better off, healthwise, to quit looking up and reciting old studies and spend that time bonding with dogs.
Korb, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA and a scientific consultant for BrainSonix, says scientific studies have clearly shown dogs are good for the human heart — not just in mushy romantic terms, but the actual pump itself, and all the conduits leading to and from it.
Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals,” says no they haven’t — at least not with any consistency.
Scientific studies, we will point out here, are like courtroom experts — you can usually find one that supports your cause (and, if not, you can always fund one).
We think studies have produced piles of evidence on the health benefits of dogs; we think further that — while such studies are important — they don’t tell us dog owners anything we don’t already know.
Studies have looked at how simply petting a dog can lower blood pressure, and how it can also lead to increased production of oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone.”
But I think it goes far beyond petting. Playing with a dog, observing a dog at play, even watching a dog peacefully snoozing, all do the same, I’d bet. And I’d suspect eye contact is even a bigger factor. When Ace looks into my eyes, I can sense my blood pressure dropping. I can almost feel the oxytocin gurgling through my .. whatever it is oxytocin gurgles through.
On his Psychology Today blog, “Pre-frontal Nudity” Korb cites several studies showing dogs reduce the likelihood of death by a second heart attack, lower blood pressure and prompt us to produce oxytocin.
Korb points out that rats produce oxytocin when they are licked by their mothers, and that rats that are licked a lot grow up to be more well adjusted rats — or at least less anxious and stressed.
“Oxytocin works similarly in humans, and while it may be particularly necessary in childhood, even during adulthood it is important. Oxytocin is released by physical touch (hugs, kisses, handshakes, massages, breast-feeding … that sort of thing), and possibly even through social interaction.
“Humans are social animals. So I guess it’s not that surprising that having support from other humans, and other animals, has positive health benefits. Hopefully you also take away from this article the fact that there is not always a clear divide between physical health and mental health.”
I’d add to that maybe there’s not such a clear divide, either, between the mushy romantic heart and the actual pump mechanism — that maybe what keeps the metaphoric one happy and content, also keeps the real one pumping.
“So if you have a heart attack, reach for your poodle,” Korb concludes. “Well, reach for the phone first (or your LifeAlert), then maybe reach for the aspirin, then reach for the poodle.”
Herzog doesn’t see it that way. ”It’s a nice tight package – just the sort of science writing that makes for a good Psychology Today blog post,” he writes in ”Animals and Us,” his blog for Psychology Today. ”The only problem is that the story is a little too good to be true.”
Herzog goes on to cite studies that found conflicting, and sometimes opposite results, and concludes that the evidence is not conclusive.
“The $50 billion dollar pet products industry wants you to believe that playing with a dog or cat will ward off depression, cure autism, and cause you to lose weight. Unfortunately, the evidence for these claims is not nearly as strong as “the pet industrial complex” would have you believe.
As for oxytocin, he adds, while a South African study showed impressive increases in oxytocin of subjects who had engaged in petting sessions (with dogs), other neurochemicals also spiked during tests of the subjects.
“Who is to say oxytocin was the critical hormone, rather than, say, dopamine or endorphin – neurotransmitters which are also associated with pleasure and reward?
“… The fact is that many studies of the positive effects of pets on people do not pass the replication test. Further, pop science writers (of which I am one) are often guilty of only covering the good stuff when it comes to the animals in our lives.
“So you might want to dig a little deeper the next time you read that playing with a poodle will unclog your arteries and heal a broken heart.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 22nd, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alex korb, animals, animals and us, benefits, blog, bloggers, blogging, blood pressure, debate, dogs, hal herzog, health, heart, licking, love hormone, oxytocin, pets, pre-frontal nudity, psychology today, rats, science, scientific, studies, study
To get inside a live dog’s brain, at least as one scientist sees it, you must first get the dog inside an MRI, which turned out to be a pretty big challenge for researchers at Emory University
In an effort to get a better grasp on what dogs are thinking, Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy, sent his own dog and others into an MRI — not with the use of force or restraints, but after training them to willingly enter the noisy, claustrophobia-inducing machine.
That was no simple task, as the video above shows, and as he recounts in the current issue of Psychology Today.
The knowledge gained from all that work? Hardly earth-shattering, but it’s a beginning that could end up leading to some amazing places:
“Critically, we found that the reward system of the dog’s brain behaves very much like the human’s. When Callie and McKenzie saw us giving a hand signal that indicated they were about to receive a hot dog treat, a part of their brain called the caudate lit up with activity. This is the same part of the brain that in humans becomes active when we anticipate something good about to happen. In fairness, this was exactly what we expected, because all animals have reward systems that respond to incentives.”
The research was inspired by the dog that took part in the Navy Seal raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Berns said:
“This should not have been particularly surprising, and certainly not to anyone associated with the military. Dogs had been part of military units throughout the 20th century. But the fact that a dog had helped kill the most wanted man in the world was something special. It showed that dogs were not just companions. Even though it could have no concept of democracy or freedom or individual liberty, a dog had helped defend a way of life…
“After learning the incredible things these dogs can do, I resolved to figure out what was actually going on in the mind of man’s-best-friend by using the tools of my trade: brain scanning technology.”
Berns started out with his own dog, a feist named Callie, and a border collie named McKenzie. Researchers watched what went on in their brains as they responded to two human hand signals.
But it took a long time to get to that point.
“ … We were naïve, and there were many hurdles. Ultimately, we wanted the dogs to walk up a set of steps into an MRI scanner, and shimmy inside a ‘head coil,’ which detects the signals from the brain but looks like a small birdcage lying on its side. Once in the coil they would need to put their head on a chin rest and remain absolutely motionless. A few millimeters of movement would completely destroy the image quality. And one more thing: when the MRI is running, it sounds like a jackhammer.”
Because of the scanner noise, the dogs had to be trained to wear ear muffs. All the dogs were allowed to quit the experiment at any time. “We used only positive reinforcement,” he said. “Just food and praise.
Berns said the research started year ago and is aimed at answering “the eternal question of what dogs are really thinking. More specifically, we wanted to know what a dog is thinking when it looks at its human owner.”
“As a lifelong dog owner, and currently living with dogs #6 and #7, I would like to think that I know something about what goes on in my dogs’ heads … If you saw me walking the feist you might naturally conclude that I really knew what she was thinking. After all, I talk to her like a person. Never mind that she doesn’t respond. We have developed a relationship that transcends human language. We gaze into each others’ eyes like people do. So surely there must be a bond there.
“Or is it all one-sided? Is the dog-human bond all a sham, albeit one played willingly by both parties, with the dog getting food and shelter in return for making goo-goo eyes at its owner, and the owner getting a simulacrum of undying love?
Berns believes “gazing into our dogs’ brains is like a portal back in time. We now have the tools to see how they see us. We can see the things activating in their heads that our hominid ancestors selected from the dogs’ wolfen brethren. And now we can see it from the dog’s perspective…
“Now we can begin to answer questions like: can dogs map human emotions onto their own feelings, in other words, do they have empathy? How much language do they understand? Just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean they can’t tell what we are saying.”
To learn more about The Dog Project, go here.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 7th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, border collie, brains, callie, dog, dog brains, dogs, emory center for neuropolicy, emory university, empathy, experiment, feist, gregory berns, killing, language, mckenzie, mri, neuroscience, osama bin laden, pets, psychology today, raid, relationship, scanner, science, the dog project, training
They haven’t saddled them up and landed them gigs at halftime shows, but a group of baboons in Saudi Arabia are reportedly “keeping dogs as pets.”
And, if this video is any indication, the baboons, like humans, can be alternately cruel and loving when it comes to the dogs with whom they co-exist, in this case in a garbage dump outside of Ta’if, not far from the Red Sea.
While the baboons seem to treat pups, or at least the unfortunate one in the beginning of this video, pretty roughly, rest assured nothing too awful happens, and the video goes on to show the two species living, playing and sleeping together, and even grooming each other.
The clip is from a British nature series called “Animals Like Us.”
It came to my attention via Hal Herzog, author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”
Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has been studying human interactions with other species for two decades — and says he has never run across a species other than humans that truly can be described as keeping pets. So he was stunned when he came upon the video of the Hamadryas baboons and what seem to be their pet dogs.
At least that’s how the documentary’s narrator explains the relationship. The baboons and dogs eat and sleep together, and travel as a pack. The dogs chase off predators and the baboons treat them as members of the family, he says.
Herzog, as he explains in Animals and Us, his blog for Psychology Today, doesn’t seem to totally buy it. He did some quick research, but thinks a lot more is needed before being certain the dogs and baboons of Ta’if have a pet-and-petkeeper relationship.
“In short, are the Ta’if baboons really keeping dogs as their personal pets or is the YouTube clip just another example of Animal Planet type TV bullshit?
“… Some authorities are doubtful. The anthrozoologist Boria Sax, author of the wonderful new book City of Ravens, wrote … ‘You can’t tell just what is happening from the video alone, and we have only the word of the narrator that the dogs are kept as pets. I am skeptical.’
“Eniko Kubinyi, a canine ethologist at the Family Dog Project in Budapest was more blunt, ‘Dogs as pets of baboons? Science fiction. Baboons and dogs share the same environment, and they are socially plastic, so they enjoy the company of others…’
“I am skeptical, too,” Herzog said. “But I have been obsessed by the video for a week. It raises a host of questions in my mind.”
Might the relationship, for example, be less peaceful if there wasn’t abundant food for all in their shared environment, he wonders.
I wonder whether the baboons use any positive reinforcement to keep the dogs in line, or, as the early part of the video indicates, they opt for the dominant, Millan-esque, pack-leader approach.
Desolate as the landscape looks, the connection between the baboons and dogs in a desert garbage dump seems some fertile ground for research.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, animals and us, animals like us, baboons, behavior, chimps, dogs, dump, environment, hal herzog, humans, interaction, monkeys, nature, pet-keeping, petkeeping, pets, psychology, psychology today, saudi arabia, shared, some we eat, some we hate, some we love, species, ta'if, video, youtube
Do animals, grieve? Love? Hate? Do they feel fear, rage, pride, remorse, happiness, shame, envy, jealousy, sadness and all those other emotions that add texture and confusion to our lives.
You betcha, Marc Bekoff says in his Psychology Today blog, Animal Emotions.
“There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It’s not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have,” he writes. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.”
The piece goes on to present some compelling examples.
Sea lion mothers, watching their babies being eaten by killer whales, wail pitifully. Dolphins have been seen struggling to save a dead infant and mourn afterward. What appears to be grief has been observed in elephants when a member of the family, a non-relative, or even a member of another species succumbs.
Bekoff cites the case of Gana, a captive gorilla, clearly grieved the loss of her infant in the famous image of her carrying her dead baby. Jane Goodall observed Flint, a young chimpanzee, withdraw from his group, stop eating, and die of a broken heart after the death of his mother, Flo.
Gorillas are known to hold wakes for dead friends, Bekoff adds, recapping the story of a female gorilla, Babs, who died of cancer Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo ten years ago. Babs’ mate was observed howling and banging his chest, according to a zoo staff member, then picking up a piece of her favorite food — celery — putting it in her hand and trying to get her to wake up.
“Why do animals grieve and why do we see grief in different species of animals?” writes Bekoff , the author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals” and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. “… Some theorize that perhaps mourning strengthens social bonds among the survivors who band together to pay their last respects. This may enhance group cohesion at a time when it’s likely to be weakened.
“Grief itself is something of a mystery, for there doesn’t seem to be any obvious adaptive value to it in an evolutionary sense. It does not appear to increase an individual’s reproductive success. Whatever its value is, grief is the price of commitment, that wellspring of both happiness and sorrow.”
Posted by jwoestendiek November 4th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal emotions, animals, author, blog, book, books, dolphins, ecology, emotions, evolutionary biology, foxes, gorillas, grief, marc bekoff, mourning, pets, psychology today, rituals, the emotional lives of animals, university of colorado, whales, wild animals, wolves