After the death of his dog Newton, Gregory Burns wanted to find the answer to an age-old question: Does your dog really love you — or are they just in it for the food?
The Emory University neuroscientist decided to put the question to the test, analyzing 90 dogs in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to peer into their minds and see what they are feeling, according to Time.
Luckily, he has some good news for canine-lovers — yes, your dog really does love you.
For the study, Berns put the pups into the MRI machines and alternated between giving them praise and hot dogs.
He then examined their responses in the reward center of the brain with the MRI, finding that dogs equally responded to food and an enthusiastic “good boy!”
“From that, we conclude that the vast majority of dogs love us at least as much as food,” he said.
Researchers are investigating whether dogs share a more complex kind of memory like humans and a few other animals.
The research, along with finding that dogs are “wired to process (human) faces,” also has major implications for training service dogs.
“We scanned (service dogs as puppies) and followed up on them later,” Berns said to The Times. “We found that the dogs who were the best candidates had more activity in the brain region that has the most dopamine receptors, the caudate nucleus.”
Don’t worry: Berns said he never drugged or restrained a dog to stay in the MRI machine.
In fact, he told The Times it took about three months of training with an MRI simulator before he was able to get his pup Callie to remain in an actual MRI.
For Berns, the results of his study only strengthens his resolve as a vegetarian.
“Think about how we farm animals in large industrialized centers, where they are confined for much of their lives and then slaughtered, often cruelly,” he said. “If the animals are aware of their suffering — and I think they are — we ought to reconsider their treatment.
“This research makes it clear that animals have brains with the capacity to feel many of the emotions we do.”