Human brains are wired to respond to animals

Monday, September 12, 2011
Human brains are wired to respond to animals

Dogs have been man's best friend for centuries — which could explain a new study that found our brains respond more strongly to pictures of animals than photos of our loved ones.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, suggests our brain is 'hard-wired' to recognise and react to other species before any other stimuli.

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Researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) observed 41 epilepsy patients who were already being monitored for brain activity related to seizures.

The patients were shown photos of people, animals, landmarks and objects while researchers closely monitored their brain activity.

In all cases, animal images caused the most neuron activity, even if the creature pictured was a snake or a shark instead of a kitten or puppy. The response to animals was far greater than the response to objects, places or even people.

Study leader Florian Mormann thinks the results are down to hundreds of years of evolution. The part of the temporal lobe that responds to animals is one of the oldest parts of the brain.

It dates back to the time when animals were either our predators or prey, explaining our heightened awareness of them.

Related: Pet plastic surgery on the rise

Mormann hopes to use the findings to improve understanding animal phobias.

Video: The secret language of pets

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