Researchers examined the brains of 41 neurosurgical patients during 111 experimental sessions, while they were shown hundreds of images. The images were landmarks, people, objects or animals. The right amygdala was observed to respond more to the animal images, regardless of the type of animal shown. In other words, there was amygdala stimulation both for images of cute pets, and large predators. In the study brain activity was able to be detected down to individual neurons. Co-author Dr. Ralph Adolphs said, “that it is important for the brain to be able to rapidly detect animals. The reasons for this are probably several, but would likely include the need to avoid predators and catch prey.” (Source abc.net.au)
The amygdalae are two almond-shaped parts of the brain believed to be central in the processing of emotional reactions, emotional memory and social interactivity. They also are involved in activating the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the regulation of stress.
Another intriguing aspect of the study is the possibility that due to the close relationship between humans and other animals for millenia, whether we were running from them, capturing them for food, or domesticating them, part of our brain processing might actually be dedicated just for animal interaction. The brain activity that looks for animals and measures their attributes, distance and presence is likely also found in other animals, because we all evolved in the same or similar ecosystems, and food chains. In other words depending on the context, we are all either prey or predators, so it would seem reasonable there is a similar type of brain processing capacity in each vertebrate species, potentially. Consider the fact there may be as many as 8.7 million species on this planet (including plants) and therefore interactivity seems to be the crux of life. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that what we became resulted from the presence of others.
Image Credit: Bob the Wikipedian