Take Your Dog To Work Day – what’s your pooch thinking?

Today, believe it or not, is Take Your Dog To Work Day. This day was initiated by Pet Sitters International, and has been celebrated since 1999.

The rationale behind the day is the celebration of the human-canine bond, and the promotion of pet adoption by making life – including the workplace – more accepting to pets, in particular dogs. Employers are encouraged to open their workplace to employees’ pets on this special day.

The lovable bulldog – breed of choice for Adam Sandler and Winston Churchill, among others.
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Seems a good enough idea, doesn’t it? I think the following bit of research has the potential to further promote and enhance the human-canine bond:

According to a recent article in Scientific American, scientists have (pun alert!) embarked on a study of dogs’ thoughts, by means of fMRI brain scans of unsedated dogs. The research team says this provides a first peak into the thought processes of dogs.

Of course the key problem in scanning the brain of an fully awake, unrestrained dog, is that the animal is unlikely to remain still for the duration of the scan. However, after seeing the level of training achieved with dogs in the US Navy, lead researcher Gregory Berns from the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy, felt they should be able to train a dog to behave inside the fMRI.

Two dogs – a 2-year old feist and a 3-year old border collie – were trained to walk into the scanner and remain still while being scanned. In addition, they were trained to respond to certain hand signals – one indicating the dog was about to receive a treat, and the other that it wasn’t.

Recognition of the “treat” signal caused activity in the caudate region of the dogs’ brains – a region also associated with reward in the human brain.

While this can perhaps be viewed as a rather simplistic result, it is early-stage canine  neuro-research, and it does open the door for further studies into canine cognition, for example how they respond to human facial expressions, and how they process human speech.

Such research could definitely shed new light on the 15 000 year old human-canine bond – perhaps it can even help explain why certain people prefer certain breeds.

Stretch your brain on World Juggling Day!

Its World Juggling Day! A day to marvel at the skill of all the jugglers out there, be it the ones who can magically keep multiple balls in the air, or those who are able to maintain a balance between different tasks and responsibilities – the master-multitaskers among us.

Juggling, at least in the traditional sense of the word, is all about objects in motion – as such, they are an intricate, entertaining demonstration of the laws of physics in action. Because of this fact, a number of jugglers have developed scientific juggling routines, where they teach and demonstrate fundamental laws of physics and mathematics through the art of juggling. I can’t help wishing I had a juggling maths teacher at school!

Learning to juggle not only makes you cool – it can make you smarter as well.
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Did you know that juggling can actually stretch your brain? Neuroscientists from the University of Oxford did an experiment to study the effect of juggling on the brain. They took a group of non-juggler adults and measured a cross section of their brains with an fMRI scanner. Half of the group was then enrolled in a juggling course where they had to practice juggling for at least 30 minutes a day, and at the end of a six week training period the brains of the juggling group and the non-juggling control group were again scanned.

The results showed noticeable changes in the white matter of the brains of the juggling group, that is, the fibres that connect the different areas of the brain and that carry messages (electrical signals) between nerve cells.

What is important about this research is not so much that juggling is good for you, but that the adult brain still remains mobile and adaptable beyond childhood. The study shows that, instead of starting to degenerate in adulthood, its possible for the brain to continue to adapt and condition itself to operate more efficiently when faced with a new challenge. Juggling was chosen for the experiment because it’s a particularly difficult motor skill to master – precise body movements, tracking of fast-moving objects and peripheral vision – as such requiring extra effort from the brain.

Study leader, Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg, noted: “Knowing that pathways in the brain can be enhanced may be significant in the long run in coming up with new treatments for neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, where these pathways become degraded.”

(Source: ABC Science)

I wonder if the juggling required to balance work, family, friends and other responsibilities has the same mental benefits?