Psychophysiological effects of human-dog interaction in university students exposed to a stress-induced situation using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).

Rafael Martos-Montes 1; David Ordóñez-Pérez 2; Jesús Ruiz-Maatallah 2; and Miriam Martínez-Cobos 1

1 University of Jaén, Spain
2 Perruneando, Spain
Enjoying the company of a good-natured dog can lend support to a person in a stressful situation. This presence brings benefits across different areas of human well-being and leads to a decrease in levels of sympathetic activation and subjective distress which are triggered in social anxiety situations. This study seeks to provide evidence of these benefits relative to physiological variables—heart rate and blood pressure—as well as a subjective variable, namely anxiety. Thirty-six university students (80% female, M=22.4, SD=4,32) exposed to a stress-induced situation using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) participated in the study. This type of scenario produces an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and subjective anxiety levels. The decline in these variable levels was assessed based on whether the participants were alone or accompanied by a friendly dog. Through random selection, half of the students could pet the animal during the stress-induced phase (experimental group), whereas the other half had a toy dog to hold (control group). The levels of all three dependent variables were recorded at three different stages: the pretest relaxation phase, the stress- and anxiety-induced test phase, and the relaxation or return-to-calm posttest phase. The results revealed that the dog’s presence during the test phase considerably reduced the levels of anxiety and heart rate experienced by the experimental group participants compared to the control group. No significant differences in blood pressure were observed between both groups during this phase. The results of this research coincide with earlier studies that report on the beneficial effects of human–animal interaction, while highlighting the importance of analyzing this interaction in the field of psychology.

Keywords: Dog, Human–animal interaction, Social anxiety, Stress, TSST