Dogs as body-budget regulators

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Chapter 12 endnote 29, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

One of those inadvertently bred characteristics, I speculate, is a certain kind of dog nervous system. We can regulate a dog’s body budget, and dogs can regulate ours in turn.

In a very clever experiment, psychologist Jim Blascovich and his colleagues asked 240 test subjects to subtract numbers mentally and say the answers out loud. Subjects completed this mental arithmetic in the presence of a pet (a dog or cat) or not. People with pets had less body-budget disruption (slower heart rate, smaller blood pressure changes) and faster recovery, when compared to those without pets. People with pets were less physically stressed than those who did the math task in the presence of spouse! People with pets even had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure (i.e., body-budgets were in better shape).[1]

Some scientists suggest that dogs and their humans regulate each others' body-budgets like human babies and their caregivers do.[2]

This effect is one reason why emotional support dogs and therapy dogs are so effective.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Allen, Karen, Jim Blascovich, and Wendy B. Mendes. 2002. "Cardiovascular reactivity and presence of pets, friends, and spouses: The truth about cats and dogs." Psychosomatic Medicine, 64: 727-739.
  2. Topál, József, Márta Gácsi, Ádám Miklósi, Zsófia Virányi, Enikő Kubinyi, and Vilmos Csányi. 2005. "Attachment to humans: a comparative study on hand-reared wolves and differently socialized dog puppies." Animal Behavior, 70 (6): 1367–1375.