The question goes back to this tweet:

Julia‏ @JuliaHass

I just learned that elephants think humans are cute the way humans think puppies are cute (the same part of the brain lights up when they see us) so pack it in, nothing else this pure and good is happening today.

The skeptics stack exchange post about the tweet refers to elephants, but I'm interested in a general answer.


1 Answer 1


Note that I'm being a bit simplistic here, as with PET you can measure a lot of different things (like activation of circuits depending on specific neurotransmitters) depending on the tracer used. Here's a table from the book PET and SPECT in Neurology:

enter image description here

The downside is that PET has lower spatial resolution than fMRI and substantially lower temporal resolution, meaning chnages over time are hard to pick up with PET. If you care about quick changes, then MEG or EEG are the fastest, but you have solve a difficult inverse problem to figure out where the changes came from, which requires making quite a few assumptions to get a (unique) solution.

And let me add (for infotainment purposes) "[f]MRI Killed The Radiotracer".

  • $\begingroup$ Just out of additional curiosity. Are you aware that any such diagnosis equipment is available for large animals such as elephants? $\endgroup$
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @jjack: I'm not sure. It would certainly require specialized equipment to scan live elephants because the usual scanners made for humans are too small. I did find one paper in which the brain of a recently deceased elephant went under MRI: allmanlab.caltech.edu/PDFs/Hakeem2005.pdf $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Fizz I haven't read the paper, but how can a dead brain function? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Ooker: MRI (unlike fMRI) does not measure function, only anatomy. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 14:01

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