Science Briefs: Happy as a dog in motion


Gregory Berns, an Emory Uni versity professor of neuroeconomics, normally studies the brains of people, using fMRI scans to figure out which stimuli motivate them. A news item about a bomb-sniffing dog got him wondering about canines: why they do what they do with and for us. Is it all about food? Or do they love us?

In an attempt to answer these questions, Berns trained two dogs -- one of them his own adopted dog Callie -- to enter a scanning machine and stay still. While inside the scanner, the dogs were shown hand signals that indicated whether they were about to get something yummy (a slice of a hot dog) or not.

The results: the first-ever brain scans of non-sedated dogs, allowing a picture of brain activity, and the revelation that a brain region that in humans lights up in anticipation of something pleasurable also lights up in dogs when they are told that a hot dog is coming. It also responds when the dogs are given scents of their humans.

People who don't love dogs might not accept this as evidence of very much. But as Berns lays out his case, using the science and his interactions at home with Callie, you may be persuaded that while dogs definitely like hot dogs, they may not be that different from humans in anticipating and wanting other good things -- such as the love of people.


If the idea of running a marathon sounds like 26.2 miles of agony (and folly), Alexandra Heminsley can relate. She thought in her 20s, she writes in her memoir, "Running Like a Girl."

That changed when she hit her 30s and found herself in need of a little self-improvement. She put aside her scorn for "the radiant smiles of the determinedly Sporty Types" and decided to get herself in shape. And, spoiler alert: She does. Heminsley is now an avid runner, with a handful of marathons under her belt. She has become the healthy, in-shape girl she used to hate.

But don't hate her for it. Heminsley may have shed pounds, but she hasn't lost her sarcasm. Hers is a realistic look at what it takes to transition from couch potato to amateur endurance athlete, flecked with self-deprecating anecdotes. It also includes tips for the would-be runner: how to buy a good sports bra and shoes ("Don't go shopping for running shoes in a short skirt with no tights"), how to develop a safe running style (" Heads are heavy -- don't leave yours lolling around . . . try to keep looking up and forward so that your spine is straight"), and how to look good on marathon day ("Nail polish is the perfect boost for running.")

"I have been that woman typing ‘What happens when you run with big boobs?' into the search bar at the end of the night," Heminsley writes. Readers of her book, she hopes, can avoid that experience.

Washington Post


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