While researching information for this topic I came across a study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Comparative Medicine. Dr. Lori Palley was the study’s co-lead author.
The study included 14 women who had at least one child between the ages of 2 and 10 and one dog that had been in the household for two or more years. MRI technology was used to monitor the women’s brain activity as they looked at photos of their children and their dogs. Brain areas associated with reward, relationships, emotion and social interaction showed increased activity when the women saw pictures of their children and their pets.
According to Dr. Palley, “Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional well-being of humans.”
Although the study is small and might not apply to a larger group of people, the results suggest there is a common brain network important for pair-bond formation that is activated when mothers viewed images of either their child or their dog.