Letter from CAIRC
July 2004 Vol.8 No.2

CAIRC Holds Research Presentations for the 6th CAIRC Scholarship Program for Advancing the Study of Relationships between Humans and Companion Animals
-Young researchers working in diverse fields study human-animal relationships-

Every year since 1998, the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) has sponsored the CAIRC Scholarship Program for advancing the study of relationships between humans and companion animals. The following is a description of the five research projects supported by the latest round of scholarship awards.
The research presentations for the 6th CAIRC Scholarship Program for advancing the study of relationships between humans and companion animals were delivered at a meeting held on July 2 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Participants in the event included scholarship awardees Shu-Feng Chang, Takashi Hanakawa, Tohru Taniuchi, Nobuyo Otani, and Yuko Tanaka, as well as the selection committee members Professor Mitsuaki Ohta of Azabu University, Professor Yuji Mori of the University of Tokyo, and CAIRC Chairman Yoichi Shoda, Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo.

Prior to the research presentations, Dr. Shoda made the following opening remarks.
“ Having completed its sixth year, the CAIRC Scholarship Program for advancing the study of relationships between humans and companion animals has now supported the research projects of 32 awardees. The five scholarship recipients whose findings will be presented today comprise a specialist in education and human development, a physician specializing in brain function, a specialist in zoology, psychology researchers, and a specialist in gerontological nursing. All have done extremely interesting work in these diverse fields, focusing on human-animal interactions from a wide range of viewpoints. I look forward so much to these presentation meetings because I learn so many new things each year.
“ The symposium of the International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO), of which CAIRC is an affiliate member, takes place once every three years. This international event will be held in October this year in the city of Glasgow, UK, and CAIRC scholarship recipient Nobuyo Otani will be among the presenters there. It is extremely significant that rather than merely studying the research results from other countries, we are now generating our own new findings in Japan that we can disseminate to the rest of the world. Thanks to the work of these excellent young scholars, we have made still more progress in accumulating solid research results on the science of human-animal interactions from diverse intellectual standpoints, and that is extremely gratifying to me.
“ The 6th scholarship research projects are richly diverse, including a comparative survey on the social support pets provide, a study revealing through MRI images the part of the brain governing feelings of affection toward companion animals, a consideration of the effect that learning more about animals has on attitudes toward them, research aimed at developing more effective training methods for dogs, and the role of companion animals in maintaining self-esteem among the elderly. Each of these topics is one in which we anticipate major results from continued research and further development. And I sense a passion among these researchers for taking on the challenges to come.”

A comparison of similar and dissimilar points of support provided by other people and pets from the point of view of social psychology

Social Support and Mental and Physical Well-Being Provided by Companion Animals

Shu-Feng Chang
Doctoral student, Department of Education and Human Development, Nagoya University Graduate School

Research has revealed numerous positive effects that pets have on the human body and mind. These include stress relief, improved physiological health indicators, relief of heart disease and mental illness, effects on the health of the elderly, promotion of inclusion in pet-related social networks, contributions to the owner’s sense of distinctiveness and personal image, and so on.

Most of these results, however, are derived from simple measures of social support levels. Support that humans provide each other, on the other hand, is studied using much more complex methods that classify support according to subcategories such as informational, emotional, instrumental, evaluative, and functional support. Taking existing social support theory into account, Chang has compared the similarities and differences between support humans derive from pets and support they derive from other humans.

“ Unlike with people, you cannot have a conversation with a pet. Despite that fact, increasing numbers of people love their pets as they would their own children,” said Chang. “ Even if we talk to pets, the conversation will undoubtedly be one-sided. I wanted to look into exactly what kind of psychological support people derive from pets, and how that support differs from that provided by other people.”

For the study, a questionnaire was distributed to 436 people, comprising university students and their family members (homemakers, retirees, and others). Chang then measured responses to the 63 questions using four measurement criteria: 1) levels of emotional relief derived from the pet (13 items), 2) social support levels (23 items), 3) feelings of loneliness (20 items), and 4) mental health indicators (7 items). Social support levels ware divided into the following categories: that derived from pets, that derived from the person the subject depends on most, and the need for social support. Levels of each support category were then measured and studied comparatively.

“ The results indicated that support derived from other humans may be more necessary than that derived from pets,” said Chang. “ However, of the 23 items comparing these two types of support, 22 indicated no major differences in the degree of desire for support. For instance, even on items such as ‘Listens carefully to what I say,’ and ‘Cares about whether I’m happy,’ the results indicated that people derive support from their pets. The biggest differentiating factor was seen in responses to the item ‘Exercises together with me.’ The survey respondents commonly take walks and play with their pets, but don’t do so as much with other people. This helps to confirm numerous other studies indicating that pets contribute to the health of humans.

“ The results also show that pet owners experience relatively low levels of feelings of loneliness, revealing an even greater value of the emotional relief provided by pets. A breakdown of the results by the occupation of the respondents revealed that retirees derived greater levels of support from pets than from any other group. The scope of daily life experienced by the elderly is typically narrower than that of young people, leading to the potential for a lack of support from other people. Keeping pets can therefore help reduce feelings of loneliness and tedium, and add variety to lifestyles. I think that the emotional and physical support pets provide therefore has a great influence.”
“ The question of the extent to which pets can serve as replacements for humans is a major issue in the study of human-animal interactions,” commented Professor Ohta. “ The research undertaken by Ms. Chang is therefore a typical one and very important. I don’t think that animals can easily serve as full replacements for humans, but there is ample evidence to suggest that animals are capable of promoting a person’s health more significantly than other people in some situations. I very much hope that Ms. Chang will continue this research and take it to even higher levels.”

Investigation of brain activities that express feelings of affection by comparing human and canine faces

Neural Correlates of Perception and Affect Underlying Human-Animal Relationships: Research Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Takashi Hanakawa
Instructor, Human Brain Research Center, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine

Why is it that people pour such affection on their pets? What is the mechanism of feeling affection? The answers to these questions remain to be answered. Hanakawa, who researches brain function at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, set his sights on the structure of the neural mechanism within the brain that carries out the face recognition function, which is one factor in generating feelings of affection.

“ Advances in research using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, have helped reveal that brain activity associated with various complex emotions is physically located in the brain,” noted Hanakawa. “ Extensive research, for instance, has discovered brain activity associated with human face recognition located in a part of the fusiform gyrus on the lower surface of the posterior cephalic fold. The first point of this research project was to find out whether the system within a dog owner’s brain that accomplishes face recognition of the pet has aspects in common with the human face recognition system. I also wanted to find out whether we would be able to distinguish among the brain activities associated with recognition of the faces of closely familiar people, passing acquaintances, and complete strangers. The goal was to clarify these two points using fMRI.”

The procedure consisted of placing 11 subjects in a high-resolution cranial MRI apparatus and showing them eight successive types of photographs. They were asked to indicate whether the image was familiar or unfamiliar to them as the changes in oxygen metabolism and cerebral blood flow associated with local brain activity were measured. The eight types of photo images were: 1) faces of examinees’ family members, 2) faces the examinees were asked to remember just before the exam, 3) faces of strangers, 4) faces of examinees’ dogs, 5) faces of dogs the examinees were asked to remember just before the exam, 6) faces of unfamiliar dogs, 7) images hidden by a mosaic pattern the examinees were asked to remember just before the exam, and 8) unfamiliar images hidden by a mosaic pattern. Hanakawa prefaced his explanation of the results with the caveat that they could only be considered preliminary, since not enough examinees were tested for the findings to be conclusive.

“ Activity associated with recognition of both human and canine faces was observed in part of the fusiform gyrus (Brodmann area 37), with no clear differences in location for human and canine faces,” he noted. “ We therefore believe that a common neural base is used in both functions. We also picked up common reactions in the anterior orbital surface of the prefrontal cortex and amygdaloid complex to photos of both familiar human and familiar dog faces. In the future, I would like to continue research into the potential relationships between activity in these areas and the emotions of love and affection.”

Hanakawa believes that further comprehensive research is necessary. He notes that in order to further pinpoint the brain structures that give rise to the emotions of love and affection, it will be necessary to increase the amount of experimental data available, while also conducting parallel studies into autonomic nerve reflexes and subjective emotions.

Praising the pioneering application of expertise in neurological science to the field of human-companion animal relationships, Professor Mori expressed his anticipation for the fruits of further work in this area.“ Through advances in diagnostic imaging technology such as fMRI, it has become possible to study brain function noninvasively,” he said. “ This will be of tremendous use in revealing the brain activities that result from interaction with animals. And since the areas of the brain in which Mr. Hanakawa detected activity also exist in the brains of animals, his results provide us with a glimpse of the foundation for emotional communication between humans and animals.”

A consideration of the psychology behind humans evaluating animals

How Learning More About Animals’ Mental Abilities Affects Our View of Animals

Tohru Taniuchi
Lecturer in the Department of Human Studies, Faculty of Letters, Kanazawa University

Taniuchi specializes in areas of the psychology of learning and comparative psychology that have familiarized him with animals. Research in this specialty includes, for instance, the study of models of mouse behavior that could be useful in correcting problem behavior in humans, and studies of the cognizance and memory capabilities of various species.

“ I often hear it said that our research is having an effect on the ways in which people view animals,” he explained. “ They are, however, speaking from a visceral or experiential point of view, since there is no evidence from research to demonstrate it. Our aim in the first phase of this research project was to reveal the effect that acquiring knowledge about the mental faculties of animals can have on people’s attitudes toward and evaluations of animals. In the second phase, the objective was to grasp the basic attitudes and feelings people have toward animals, and to analyze the relationships between different attitudes.

“ Subjects for the first phase of the project were selected from among university students in a course on comparative cognitive science. Before the course began, the subjects were asked to rate 60 animal species according to four criteria: mental capacity, sense of affinity, communicative capability, and utility. A second evaluation questionnaire was then administered after a three-day intensive lesson on cognitive development and visual perception among chimpanzees, and changes in attitude after the lesson were measured.

“ In addition, a follow-up questionnaire was administered six months later in order to determine the persistence of the attitude changes. The results showed major increases in ratings for chimpanzees in the second questionnaire compared to the first for all four criteria, whereas no comparable rating increases were seen for any other species. These results can be seen as indicating that changes in attitudes toward specific animals can be brought about through acquisition of knowledge in concentrated lessons. The follow-up questionnaire resulted in an across-the-board reduction in ratings for all four criteria. Ratings for mental capacity, sense of affinity, and utility, however, maintained their higher levels relative to the initial pre-lesson questionnaire. These results indicate that acquisition of knowledge can bring about a relatively long-term transformation in attitudes.”

The greatest correlations of data in this first phase of the study linked the mental capacity criterion with utility, and communicative capability with sense of affinity. Assuming the existence of a causal relationship between these attitudes, probing more deeply into such links will reveal more about the psychology behind humans’ evaluation of animals. It was the purpose of the second phase of the project to look into these basic attitudes toward animals.

“ We began the second phase with a lexicon of 89 vocabulary items commonly used to express attitudes and feelings toward animals. A statistical vetting of the initial lexicon restricting it to items representative of discreet conceptual factors without overlap resulted in a list of eight Japanese words and expressions, which translate as: ‘for food,’ ‘unsanitary,’ ‘sense of affinity,’ ‘risky,’ ‘intelligent,’ ‘diligent,’ ‘requiring protection’ and ‘possessing mystique.’ These eight items can be seen as representative of factors linked by relationships that can be studied. For instance, we can imagine a psychological inhibition on associating the item ‘for food’ with animals already associated with ‘sense of affinity’ and ‘requiring protection.’”

Taniuchi is currently working on clarifying the associations among these factors. Disputes and lack of understanding among people regarding animals are the cause of numerous problems. These problems include controversies over conservation efforts for specific animals and over living with pets in apartment and condominium buildings, as well as differing cultural conceptions of and attitudes toward animals. By elucidating the links among the eight conceptual factors, it should be possible to learn more about the underlying psychology and promote mutual understanding.

“ In an experiment designed to encourage reclusive children to enjoy the outside world again, the students in our laboratory have invited such children to play with dogs, ride horses, and observe dolphins,” noted Professor Ohta. “ These efforts have met with success rates of 20%, 30%, and 50%, respectively. Having heard of Mr. Taniuchi’s research, I've become interested in whether we might be able to increase those success rates by showing the children videos of dolphins before inviting them out. This research abounds in potential applications. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Taniuchi’s work progresses in future.”

A study toward establishing effective dog training methods

A Neuroscientific Understanding of Dog Training to Develop Better Interactions between Humans and Dogs

Nobuyo Otani
Researcher, New Institute of Animal Science

Approximately 11.14 million dogs currently live in Japanese households (according to a fiscal 2003 study by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, Japan), and the number is increasing year by year. As relationships between humans and dogs thus deepen, a number of new issues are emerging. Among the causes are problem behaviors such as excessive barking and physical aggression, which are factors behind a recent increase in dog abandonment. Compared with Europe and the United States, awareness of dog training in Japanese society is still rather low. Taking this state of affairs into consideration, Otani’s research group conducted a study on the effectiveness of dog training methods.

“ In the neurological pathway by which stimulation is transmitted in animals, stimulus is first applied to the organism from the external environment, and the corresponding information is received by the upper central nervous system and transmitted to the hypothalamus,” began Otani. “ A biological reaction is then brought about through the autonomic nervous system, that is, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves. We decided to determine whether normal biological reactions were taking place by measuring urine concentrations of catecholamine, an index for the assessment of autonomic nervous activity.

“ The experiment was divided broadly into three phases. In the first, urine samples were taken from the subjects before and after training in obedience of basic commands such as ‘Sit,’ ‘Wait,’ and ‘Down.’ The samples were then tested for noradrenaline (NA) and adrenaline (A) concentrations. The results showed normal correlations in NA and A levels before and after training.

“ In the next phase of the experiment, individuals were divided into a group exhibiting aggressive behavior, another that barked excessively, and a control group,” Otani explained. “ Urine samples were taken at rest, and then after exercise stress consisting of running at about 25 kilometers per hour for 20 to 30 minutes. As expected, NA and A levels in both sets of samples from the control group correlated normally. The results for the groups exhibiting problem behavior were clearly different from the normal post-exercise levels found in the control group samples. Abnormalities such as unusually high NA concentrations at rest were detected, and no correlations comparable to those of the control group were found.”

Otani thus indicated the possibility that dogs exhibiting problem behavior suffer from some sort of defect in certain autonomic nervous system responses. “ In addition, we also tested a group of subjects that had previously exhibited problem behavior, which had improved to some extent after the dogs underwent obedience training,” she continued. “ The results showed that the low rate of correlations in NA and A levels in urine samples taken at rest improved during training to the point that they were close to those of the control group. We would now like to further examine whether problem behavior resulting from defects in autonomic nervous system responses can be improved by correcting the underlying defect.”

Otani believes that in developing more effective training methods and bringing about early improvement of problem behavior, it will be crucial to raise the level of training among pet dogs. These methods can also be adapted to high-level training such as that for service dogs. By observing autonomic nervous system responses to basic training, it may be possible to more rapidly carry out the selection process that determines which dogs have the aptitude for assistive service.

“ It takes lengthy and rigorous training to produce an assistant dog,” said Professor Mori, expressing his anticipation for future progress. “ Among candidates undergoing training to become guide dogs for the blind, fewer than half graduate. It’s a pity to see a candidate fail as the lack of potential emerges in training, and this also represents a major waste of effort and expense for the humans involved. From this perspective, the idea of noninvasively measuring levels of catecholamine in urine in order to gauge a dog’s appropriateness for service is an extremely interesting approach. As sufficient data accumulates, it may become possible to scientifically review and improve methods of training service dogs.”

The possibility of companion animals supporting the self-esteem of elderly people

The Effects of Companion Animals that Ease Grief of the Bereaved Elderly

Yuko Tanaka
Instructor of Gerontological Nursing, Aichi Prefectural College of Nursing & Health

The death of a spouse is a common experience among the elderly. The accompanying bereavement is known as a cause of negative feelings such as depression, a sense of despair, and loneliness. As indicated in the title of her report, Tanaka undertook research to determine whether the effects of such bereavement are alleviated through positive feelings resulting from contact with companion animals.

“ We administered a questionnaire to subjects aged 65 to 74, and received 760 valid responses,” she explained. “ In determining the effects of bereavement on affirmative feelings experienced in everyday life, we found that levels of several criteria had been suppressed, namely, a sense of usefulness, self-esteem and enthusiasm, in order of seriousness. Four criteria showed particularly serious decreases in subjects who had lost a spouse three years or less previously. These were, from the greatest decline to the least: a sense of usefulness, a sense of being loved, a sense of making a contribution, and a sense of purposefulness in life.

“ Next, we looked into the affirmative feelings that companion animals impart to the elderly in everyday life. No statistically significant difference emerged from a simple division of subjects into pet owners and those without pets, which demonstrated the importance of another factor: the degree of importance the subject places on the relationship with the companion animal. Among subjects with qualitatively strong relationships with their pets, there was a marked effect on six criteria. These were, from the greatest improvement to the least: a sense of being loved, a sense of being protected, enthusiasm, self-esteem, a sense of usefulness, and a sense of purposefulness in life.

“ We studied four facets of the subjects’ relationships with their companion animals: responsibility for care and feeding, time spent in the same room with the pet, emotional attachment to the pet, and the degree of difference between the positive and stressful experiences of living with a pet. We discovered that time spent in the same room with the pet correlated particularly highly with increases in positive feelings among the elderly.

“ Studies of gerontological nursing care have shown that for the elderly, an enthusiasm for life and sense of purpose, as well as the sense of protecting something precious and exchanging feelings of affection, are all crucial in maintaining self esteem on top of a sense of usefulness and self-worth. That is to say, our results indicate that time spent in a room with a companion animal is more important than any of the other factors studied in maintaining self-esteem among the elderly.

“ There has been a trend in recent years toward promoting animal-assisted activities at facilities such as those for the elderly. But it is hard to say that the best results can be obtained from sporadic visits or special events,” she concluded. “ Creating an environment conducive to the raising of pets at elder care facilities, just as families do at home, is a crucial element in bringing about more positive feelings among the elderly on a daily basis.”

“ The topic Ms. Tanaka has taken on is one that has long been the subject of research in Europe and the United States, and I think it is wonderful that this kind of data has now been obtained in Japan as well,” remarked Professor Ohta. “ This represents major progress. We now have further research results indicating that it’s not enough simply to be in the presence of a companion animal, but that the significance of keeping a pet depends upon whether or not the person feels affection toward the animal.”