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What’s your dog thinking? First-ever MRIs at Emory University give a glimpse


Anyone who lives with a dog has surely wondered what they are thinking.

Emory University researchers have developed a new methodology to scan the brains of alert dogs and explore the minds of the oldest domesticated species. The technique uses harmless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same tool that is unlocking secrets of the human brain.

Interestingly, researcher Mark Spivak theorizes that people who took in dogs early in our evolutionary process may have developed into better people as a result. Which, of course, explains why dog people tend to make better partners, spouses, and friends.

Dogs have learned to respond to our commands, emotions, and, sometimes, it seems, thoughts. Yet we’re still pretty much in the dark about what they’re thinking and feeling. Emory researchers figured that dogs could be trained to go into MRI machines and stay still for testing. After all, they have learned to jump out of planes, and do a host of complex tasks to help humans.

From the research paper:
“As the oldest domesticated species, with estimates ranging from 9,000-30,000 years BCE, the minds of dogs inevitably have been shaped by millennia of contact with humans [1,2]. As a result of this physical and social evolution, dogs, more than any other species, have acquired the ability to understand and communicate with humans. A resurgence of research in canine cognition has revealed the range (and variability) of skills such as following pointing and gaze cues [3,4,5], fast mapping of novel words [6], and the conjecture that dogs have emotions [7]. Although the growing list of canine cognitive skills is impressive, how does the dog mind actually work? We are left to infer canine brain function from behavior and ultimately guess at the inner workings of the dog brain.”

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