Since the first homo sapien roamed our vast Earth, we have had unique interactions with the animals around us. Whether we were running from or running after animals, they have left their mark in the human brain. According to the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience, no matter now urbanized or tech savvy our nation becomes, animals affect our brain unlike any other person, place, or thing. There are numerous reasons for why we detect animals including the necessity to avoid predators and catch prey. This is important to our suvival and is a natural instinct instilled in all of us.
In the study that I read about, researchers looked at 41 neurosurgical patients that underwent epilepsy monitoring. They responded to various images of people, landmarks, objects, or animals. There were 111 experimental sessions in which researchers monitored the subject's brain activity as they viewed about 100 images per session. The equipment that was used was efficient enough to show how each individual neuron reacted. It was found that neurons in the right amygdala responded preferentially to the pictures of animals and this was regardless of whether the animals were cute or threatening. In this article I learned that the right amygdala has been connected to the processing of stimuli that are aversive and of stimuli that are rewarding. Well this makes sense since in our evolutionary past, animals were either seen as predators (aversive) or prey (rewarding). Also, besides being in an experimental setting, we can hear and smell animals which affect our other senses as well. The research focused on visual aids but researchers think that the amygdala would have also reacted to animal calls. We cannot conclusively say that animals directly trigger our emotions but it's possible that they affect our fear and arousal response in unique ways. Animal images "mobilize" the brain's resource to process information about them. Our amygdala helps us to detect where an animal is, to pay attention to it, encode it in our memory, and mount a behavior response. For our early ancestors the most likely response was to either kill for food, hide, admire, or run for their lives.