That’s the spot: Why petting is so appealing to pets

We’ve all witnessed it: A dog flopping over at the sight of any free hand, looking for a belly rub; a cat breaking its usual cool and lofty repose to nuzzle at its human’s side.

Now, thanks to some new research, we know why pets will out of their way to be petted.

Researchers at CalTech have found petting activates a set of neurons in the brain called MRGPRB4+ (say that three times fast. I dare ya.). While other neurons in the brain respond to a variety of different stimuli, such as prodding or poking, MRGPRB4+ responds only to petting, according to CBS News.

All mammals (humans included) have these neurons. Still, although the mechanism is now known, the reason behind it is up in the air. One theory conjectures it may encourage hygiene during social grooming, CBS reports.

The findings eventually may lead to new therapies for pets that could make them feel as though they are being petted, according to Scientific American.

The research was published in Nature Neuroscience.

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