Animal Behavior

Animal Instinct, Learning, and Emotions

What animal’s brain was recently studied with an MRI to see what it was thinking?

Trying to determine how an animal thinks has been futile in most cases—especially efforts focused on how to translate their barks, chirps, and sundry other noises. Scientists realized that it would involve scanning the brain of the animal with instruments such as a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while performing a cognitive task. And while human brain studies using an MRI are common, such experiments on other animals are not as common. One main reason was because putting an animal under sedation defeats the purpose of checking out their brain in response to certain stimuli. In 2012, scientists reasoned that dogs that underwent extensive training—such as for the Navy Seals—would not be as “wild” as dogs that were not trained as rigorously. They were able to get two well-trained dogs into an MRI and monitor the animals’ reactions. They did find a human-canine “connection”: After training for specific signals to get a treat, when the dogs saw such a treat signal, the part of the brain called the caudate region showed activity—and in humans, this region is associated with rewards.


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