New research is telling the world something that dog owners have known all along -- that canines have emotions just like humans.
Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, has spent the past two years training dogs to go into an M.R.I. scanner "completely awake and unrestrained."
Berns says the scans reveal that the structure and function of the caudate nucleus is similar in dog and human brains. In humans, the caudate activity spikes when we anticipate things we will enjoy like food or love.
In an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times, Berns summed up the study's conclusion thus: Dogs are people, too.
In his study, Berns and his colleagues tracked dogs' caudate activities when they were shown a hand signal that meant they'd be getting a food reward.
"The caudate is significantly more active to the 'reward' hand signal compared to the 'no-reward' hand signal," the study states. This suggests that dogs experience positive emotions when anticipating something good.
"In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food," Berns wrote in the Times. "The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view."
Berns notes that this does not prove that dogs have the ability to love humans, but says the results may indicate canine emotions and shed light on the human-canine relationship.
"While the study of the canine mind is fascinating for its own sake, it also provides a unique mirror into the human mind," the study states. "Because humans, in effect, created dogs through domestication, the canine mind reflects back to us how we see ourselves through the eyes, ears, and noses of another species."