To prove this, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed the brain activity of 14 women who had at least one child between age two and 10 and had a pet dog for two years or longer.

They found that a brain region important to bond formation was activated only in response to images of the woman's own child.

However, other brain regions associated with emotions, rewards and affiliations showed increased activity with both child and dog images, the Boston Business Journal reported.

"It will be interesting if future studies can directly test whether these patterns of brain activity are explained by specific cognitive and emotional functions involved in human-animal relationships," said the study's co-author, Randy Gollub from the Massachusetts General Hospital.

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