Does growing up with Fidos make for healthier babies?
Maybe – at least according to a group of researchers from the University of B.C.
Postdoctoral fellow Nicole Sugden and Professor Janet Werker are looking for families with babies between the ages of two and six months to conduct a one-hour experiment.
Sugden said that although studies have shown that having a dog improves adults and children’s social skills and their health, no one has looked if the effect stretches to babies.
“Does having a family dog change infants’ brain response to language or boost their ability to understand an adult?” Sugden asked.
“We’re hoping to find out how having a dog influences infants’ early development.”
Sugden believes there’s a few reasons why having a dog around might benefit a baby.
The type of “baby talk” often used with pets is, as the name suggest, similar to how people interact with young babies, Sugden said.
Researchers believe that babies seeing that will notice the similarities and be more primed for interaction.
“Secondly, dogs can be very responsive social partners and babies are highly sensitive to interactive social partners,” Sugden said.
“And thirdly, we have co-evolved with dogs for over 10,000 years. This special evolutionary relationship with dogs suggests that we, they, or both of us may have evolved to benefit each other.”
The study consists of a one-hour appointment at the UBC Infant Studies Centre.
Researchers will outfit the babies with a stretchy cap that used LED lights to measure brain activity. The device will use near-infrared spectroscopy see if babies with or without pet dogs show a more flexible brain response to human speech and dog barks.
The, Sugden said, researchers will point or look at toys and see if the babies follow along.
“We expect babies with dogs will show a more flexible brain response and more point and gaze following,” she said.
Families with and without pet dogs are welcome and once the little ones complete the study, they receive their first piece of university memorabilia: an honorary UBC Bachelor’s in Infant Science and a little baby scientist t-shirt.