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New Research Confirms: Petting a Dog Is Like a Drug For Our Brain

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    How Our Brain Interprets different Stimuli

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    Our brains actually divide the things we experience on our skin into "pleasant", "neutral" and "unpleasant touching". Our brains interpret these stimuli in different ways, and experiencing a nice sensation on our skin is tied to activity in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. That area is responsible for a lot of our emotional processing, so when we feel something pleasant on our skin, we respond with emotionally positive feelings. This goes for all types of enjoyable sensations, including touching fabrics and running our fingers through coffee beans — but playing with animals involve other responses that make them particularly positive for us.

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    How Petting a dog impacts our brain

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    Petting a dog also releases serotonin and dopamine, two feel-good chemicals that can improve your mood. Serotonin and dopamine levels are often low in people who suffer from depression, so having a dog can help improve symptoms in depression sufferers. Better than that, staring in the eyes of a dog you know releases oxytocin – the hormone that helps bond a mother and child.

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    And the reason we respond so strongly to petting dogs, it seems, is also grounded in the importance of touch to humans.

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    We respond a lot to touch in social situations, use it to bond with others, and can experience reductions in pain and anxiety when we're touched by those we trust and love. Touching isn't just a sensation; it's a means of communication and bonding. We bond strongly with our pets in part because we have physical relationships with them that allow for the exchange of touch. They sniff, lick, rub against and sit on us, we pet them, and the bond between the two species is strengthened.

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    How Dogs Affect Our Bodies

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    Therapy dogs have been proven to reduce the stress in students taking exams, people grieving the loss of a loved one, children in the hospital, and people traveling through airports. Stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream, a hormone that can cause all sorts of negative impacts on your body. Petting dogs has been shown to decrease the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream.


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