Paws for Thought: Dog Interaction Boosts Brainwaves and Relaxation

Summary: A new study highlights the psychological and neurological benefits of interacting with dogs, revealing that activities such as playing and walking with dogs enhance brain wave strengths linked to relaxation and concentration. This research moves beyond general observations by using EEG technology to quantify the brain’s electrical activity during eight distinct dog-related activities, including grooming, playing, and feeding.

The findings indicate significant reductions in stress, depression, and fatigue following these interactions. This nuanced understanding of how different activities impact well-being could inform more effective animal-assisted therapies.

Key Facts:

  1. Enhanced Alpha and Beta Oscillations: Interactions like playing and walking with dogs were shown to increase alpha-band oscillations, indicative of relaxation, while activities such as grooming and massaging the dog boosted beta-band oscillations, related to concentration.
  2. Broad Psychological Benefits: Participants reported notable decreases in feelings of fatigue, depression, and stress after engaging in dog-related activities, underscoring the wide-ranging benefits of human-animal interactions.
  3. Potential for Tailored Therapies: The study’s insights into specific activity-related physiological effects offer valuable guidance for designing targeted animal-assisted intervention programs to maximize therapeutic outcomes.

Source: PLOS

Spending quality time with dogs reduces stress and increases the power of brain waves associated with relaxation and concentration, according to a study published on March 13, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Onyoo Yoo from Konkuk University, South Korea, and colleagues.

Animal-assisted interventions, like canine therapy, are widely used in hospitals, schools, and beyond to help reduce anxiety, relieve stress, and foster feelings of trust.

Studies of the potential benefits of animal interactions often take a holistic approach, comparing people’s mood or hormone levels before and after spending time with a service animal. But this approach doesn’t differentiate between types of interactions, like grooming, feeding, or playing with an animal, limiting our understanding of how each specific interaction impacts a person’s health and well-being.

To better understand how such animal-related activities affect mood, Yoo and colleagues recruited a small sample of 30 adult participants to each perform eight different activities with a well-trained dog, such as playing with a hand-held toy, giving her treats, and taking pictures with her.

Participants wore electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes to record electrical activity from the brain while they interacted with the dog, and they recorded their subjective emotional state immediately following each activity.

The relative strength of alpha-band oscillations in the brain increased while participants played with and walked the dog, reflecting a state of relaxed wakefulness. When grooming, gently massaging, or playing with the dog, relative beta-band oscillation strength increased, a boost typically linked to heightened concentration.

Participants also reported feeling significantly less fatigued, depressed, and stressed after all dog-related activities.

While not all participants had pets of their own, their fondness for animals likely motivated their willingness to participate in the experiment, potentially biasing the results.

Nonetheless, the authors state that the unique relationships between specific activities and their physiological effects could serve as a reference for programming targeted animal-assisted interventions in the future.

The authors add: “This study provides valuable information for elucidating the therapeutic effects and underlying mechanisms of animal-assisted interventions.”

Funding: This paper was supported by the KU Research Professor Program of Konkuk University. This work was carried out with the support of “Cooperative Research Program for Agriculture Science and Technology Development (Project No.:RS-2021-RD009877)” Rural Development Administration, Republic of Korea.

About this psychology and neurology research news

Author: Hanna Abdallah
Source: PLOS
Contact: Hanna Abdallah – PLOS
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Psychophysiological and emotional effects of human–Dog interactions by activity type: An electroencephalogram study” by Yoo O et al. PLOS ONE


Psychophysiological and emotional effects of human–Dog interactions by activity type: An electroencephalogram study

Animal-assisted interventions are being increasingly used in studies that support various health effects. This study compared the psychophysiological and emotional responses during diverse activities with a dog to understand the impact of activity type. This study included 30 healthy adults (average age: 27.9 ± 8.4 years).

Participants performed eight different activities with a dog for 3 minutes each. These activities included meeting, playing, feeding, massaging, grooming, photographing, hugging, and walking.

Brain waves in the prefrontal, frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes were measured during the activities. Subjective evaluation of their emotions was recorded after each activity via the Profile of Mood States, Semantic Differential Method, and Stress Numeric Rating Scale.

The alpha (relative, relative slow, relative fast) power spectra indicated that the brain’s relaxation and resting state significantly increased when playing with and walking a dog. The beta (relative, relative low, and relative mid) power spectra significantly increased during dog massage, grooming, and playing activities, indicating improved concentration without stress.

Notably, playing with a dog positively affected both relaxation and concentration. The Profile of Mood States outcome showed that activities such as feeding, massaging, and hugging the dog decreased the total mood disorder score, which indicated a positive effect on participants’ moods.

The Semantic Differential Method revealed that participants felt comfortable and natural while walking with a dog and relaxed when massaging it. Participants showed significantly lower stress moods in all the activities.

This study demonstrated that specific dog activities could activate stronger relaxation, emotional stability, attention, concentration, and creativity by facilitating increased brain activity. In addition, interactions with dogs could decrease stress and induce positive emotional responses.

These results provide data that forms the basis for the composition of the AAI program and may be applicable as a reference to determine the most effective activities for specific applications.

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