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An fMRI Study of Attachment to Companion Animals and Pet Ownership

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Title: An fMRI Study of Attachment to Companion Animals and Pet Ownership
Authors: Watanabe, Sara
Advisor: Ernst, Thomas
Issue Date: 15 Jan 2014
Publisher: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract: We performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to identify the neural substrates underlying human perception of companion animals, and differential effects of pet ownership. Participants were asked to consider their pet ownership history and attitudes towards animals, and classify themselves as an inherent pet owner or non-pet owner. Fifteen male participants (mean ages 32.4 years and 36.1 years, respectively) comprised each group. All participants passively viewed photographs of different companion animal species, with nature photographs serving as baseline stimuli, while brain activity was recorded with fMRI on the research-dedicated 3 Tesla MRI scanner at UH. Photographs of companion animals evoked greater neural response among pet owners, with significantly greater activation in the left frontal lobe and right lingual gyrus. In 15 volunteers with current household pets, we also compared neural responses to photographs of personal pets and responses to unfamiliar animals of the same species. Personal pets evoked greater activity in brain areas involved in accessing biographical information and long-term memory, including the left temporal lobe, postcentral gyrus, and precuneus. Finally, we evaluated whether participants' neural response to dog photographs is mediated by the animal's attractiveness and found that if the animal was unattractive, non-pet owners exhibited greater overall neural response than pet owners, particularly in the right parietal lobe, bilateral frontal lobe, superior temporal gyrus, and thalamus. Taken together, these findings show that a number of factors mediate the human neural response to companion animals. The results have important implications for research exploring the effects of pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy.
Pages/Duration: vi, 51 pages
Rights: All UHM Honors Projects are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections:Honors Projects for Psychology

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