Here’s an interesting story for animal lovers. NBC News reported recently on new research into how petting a dog can improve your mood.
“We have known for some time that people enjoy interacting with dogs, that they feel happy when they interact with dogs, but we have never known the mechanism by which this occurs,” said Rebecca Johnson, a gerontologist with the University of Missouri-Columbia.
That’s now changing. Blood samples drawn from people before and after they interact with a live and a robotic dog. Serotonin, the hormone that controls and suppresses depression in people has been shown to increase when people pet their own dogs. Unfamiliar dogs show no change in serotonin. Johnson says she was surprised that serotonin levels actually dropped when subjects played with a robot dog.
Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, said you can’t replace the warmth of a furry friend. She hopes research like Johnson’s will promote animal therapy in hospitals and nursing homes. Barker said, “You see people smiling when a dog enters the rooms, and if we know the mechanisms, we can come up with alternative treatment recommendations. So if you are feeling down, chances are Fido can pick you up.”
Another interesting not about the research findings: Johnson said the dogs in her study also had rises in serotonin, suggesting petting benefits the animals as well as the humans.