Thursday, January 5, 2012
What is it about pets that can get a macho, muscular guy to melt as he cuddles a kitten? Or the simple smile that appears on our face as we watch a puppy's first steps? According to researchers, we are hardwired to love and respond to pets, even those who say they don't like pets!
Studies on the human brain, done at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Los Angeles, indicated that we have a part of the brain that's considered to be very old. It's called the amygdala (uh-mig-duh-luh) and when pictures of animals were shown to 41 people who volunteered for this study, the scientists found that neurons in this part of the brain became quite active. Researchers believe we have been hardwired to respond to animals as far back as hundreds of millions of years ago in the early years of human evolution.
Scientists were surprised to discover it didn't make any difference if the test subjects were shown Cobras and big hairy spiders or kittens and puppies; the same result took place in the brain. This response was totally unexpected, because the amygdala is where fear and anger responses are controlled as well as where emotional memories are found. It triggers our flight or fight response, and is part of the process in storing information for long-term memory. When they started the experiment, it was believed the dangerous and not-so-cuddly animals would give a stronger emotional response, but they found out it didn't matter. Cuddly and cute or dangerous and ugly, the response in the brain waves was the same.
Scientific studies on how and why we interact the way we do with animals are interesting, and that's how we know the health benefits we get from sharing our home with our pets. I would have to say, my pets have helped me grow into the person I am today. And I know I'm not alone in giving my pets credit for emotional growth.
The internet has made it possible for pet lovers to have their own blogs where they can post pictures, tell stories and keep readers updated on their pets and share their unique relationship with others. I follow specific blogs because of a connection I feel with those who share their ups, down, problems, concerns and love of their pet. We can empathize with each other because of the common ground we share with our pets.
For many, their pet is their child and best friend. For someone like my mom who had a disability to contend with, pets can be the one reason that gets them up in the morning and keeps them moving throughout the day. People who live alone are comforted knowing there's always someone around who will listen to them, even if the “someone” has four feet, a tail and a fur coat. The reasons why each of us shares our home and life with a pet may be different, but the emotional bond and well being we get from their unconditional love is the same.
There may be science behind why we love our pets, and that's great. Humans discovered centuries ago the benefits of having a dog around. Whether it was to aid them in hunting, protect them, guard their property and family, or as a warm body to help keep them warm on a cold night; scientific studies have shown how human evolution was aided by a mutual and working relationship with canines that benefited both man and animal.
Scientists are discovering that dogs, cats and other animals are more intelligent than once thought, and their studies can help us better understand what our pets thinking. Researchers are also learning why we have a love affair with animals. The more we learn about pets and other animals, the more we realize they are sentient beings and should be given the respect they deserve.
Those of us who love our pets don't need to know why we love them. We just do. To each of us, our pets are special. What's your pet's story? Why do you love your pet?
Photo by o5com
Read more articles by Linda Cole