Tag Archives: Professor Berns

Your dog’s (brain) reward center

Professor Gregory Berns of Emory University is at it again.  He’s expanded on his earlier research using functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to show the brain activity in dogs.

“Now we’ve shown that the initial study wasn’t a fluke: Canine fMRI is reliable and can be done with minimal stress to the dogs. We have laid the foundation for exploring the neural biology and cognitive processes of man’s best, and oldest, friend.”  said Professor Berns.

Tigger, a Boston Terrier, was one of the 13 study subjects

Tigger, a Boston Terrier, was one of the 13 study subjects

The task requires dogs to cooperatively enter the small enclosure of the fMRI scanner and remain completely motionless despite the noise and vibration of the machine.  Only those dogs that willingly cooperated were involved in the experiments.

The canine subjects were given harmless fMRI brain scans while they watched a human giving hand signals that the dogs had been trained to understand. One signal indicated that the dog would receive a hot dog for a treat. The other hand signal meant that the dog would not receive a hot dog.

Most of the dogs showed a response in the caudate region of the brain when seeing the hand signal for a treat.  This area of the brain has the highest concentration of dopamine receptors, which are implicated in motivation and pleasure, among other neurological processes.

“Our goal is to map out canine cognitive processes” said Berns. The research team needs to increase the number of canine subjects that can be trained to stay within the MRI machine so it can validate its research.

See my other blogs about functional MRI and Professor Gregory Berns:

Source:  Emory University media release

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What is your dog thinking? Researchers are on the case!

Researchers at Emory University have published new research into canine cognition.  Entitled Functional MRI in Awake Unrestrained Dogs, the paper outlines findings of research that required two dogs to remain motionless in an MRI machine.

Yes – that’s right. Motionless.  The two dogs were outfitted with special ear muffs to protect them from the noise of the MRI and trained to rest their heads on a chin rest inside the machine.   As the MRI took scans of the dog’s brain activity,  hand signals were used to show the dogs whether there was or wasn’t a food reward.

This is a first-ever study on awake dogs, rather than those that have been sedated.  Importantly, part of the animal ethics of the study was to ensure the dogs were willing participants.

The findings show a definite brain activity response when the hand signals indicated a food reward.  Those dogs are paying attention!

The lead researcher, Professor Gregory Berns, says “We hope this opens up a whole new door for understanding canine cognition and inter-species communication. We want to understand the dog-human relationship, from the dog’s perspective.”

Professor Bern’s dog Callie in training in a mock-up of the MRI scanner (copyright Emory University)

Listen to Professor Berns talk about this project in the Emory University YouTube video:

Source:  Emory University press release 4 May 2012