Cutest MRI ever shows that most dogs prefer praise over food.

By Seriously Science | August 16, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Allen Skyy

Photo: flickr/Allen Skyy

We previously reported that dogs prefer petting to vocal praise. Well, according to this study– which involved putting dogs in an fMRI machine–it turns out that most dogs prefer praise to food, and will even choose their owner over food when given the choice. Talk about man’s best friend! (PS: For a cute dose of doggie fMRI, check out the figure below.)

Awake Canine fMRI Predicts Dogs’ Preference for Praise Versus Food

“Dogs are hypersocial with humans, and their integration into human social ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding. However, the proximal neural mechanisms driving dog-human social interaction are unknown. We used fMRI in 15 awake dogs to probe the neural basis for their preferences for social interaction and food reward. In a first experiment, we used the ventral caudate as a measure of intrinsic reward value and compared activation to conditioned stimuli that predicted food, praise, or nothing. Relative to the control stimulus, the caudate was significantly more active to the reward-predicting stimuli and showed roughly equal or greater activation to praise versus food in 13 of 15 dogs. To confirm that these differences were driven by the intrinsic value of social praise, we performed a second imaging experiment in which the praise was withheld on a subset of trials. The difference in caudate activation to the receipt of praise, relative to its withholding, was strongly correlated with the differential activation to the conditioned stimuli in the first experiment. In a third experiment, we performed an out-of-scanner choice task in which the dog repeatedly selected food or owner in a Y-maze. The relative caudate activation to food- and praise-predicting stimuli in Experiment 1 was a strong predictor of each dog’s sequence of choices in the Y-maze. Analogous to similar neuroimaging studies of individual differences in human social reward, our findings demonstrate a neural mechanism for preference in domestic dogs that is stable within, but variable between, individuals. Moreover, the individual differences in the caudate responses indicate the potentially higher value of social than food reward for some dogs and may help to explain the apparent efficacy of social interaction in dog training.”

Bonus figure from the main text:

dog

 

Related content:
Dogs recognize the emotions of other dogs as well as humans.
Shut up and pet me! Dogs prefer petting to vocal praise.
Yes, dogs really can feel jealous.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, rated G
ADVERTISEMENT
  • OnionsAreGood

    So… dogs who are trapped in an enclosed space to be studied don’t have an appetite but do want to be comforted by their owners.
    How is that a surprise?
    I imagine if you trapped a small child in an enclosed area and offered it food or the comfort of it’s parents it would choose it’s parents.

    • zoieoie

      These dogs have been trained to go willingly and happily into the MRI machines- no traps!

      • https://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Original-Music-written-arranged-produced-by-ME/195887277117017 JohnnyMorales

        Dogs can be trained to willingly and seemingly happy many places they’d never choose to go on their own.

        They go, because they learn it makes the person happy, and that’s good enough, even though they may not ever enjoy it.

        Unless they recorded instances where the dogs routinely hopped in the MRI when not in use, to sleep and just enjoy the space, it’s unlikely they did for any other reason beyond making the person happy.

  • Rodney Allen Roe

    I’m still wrestling with the effect of being studied on the dog’s reaction. Perhaps, prefers petting to food because the person petting it might be able to deliver it from the MRI.

  • Sandy Gibbs

    I guess cats weren’t cooperating as usual. Curious to see their results

    • https://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Original-Music-written-arranged-produced-by-ME/195887277117017 JohnnyMorales

      MRIs are for dogs.

      CAT scans are for studies involving cats. Surely you knew that. 😉

    • A-wal

      They kept wandering off before the MRI was even close to finishing.

  • moderatelymoderate

    I wonder what food the dogs were offered. If it had been special treat, what would the results have been?

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+