Experimental trial demonstrates effects of animal-assisted stress prevention program on college students’ positive and negative emotion

Patricia Pendry, Alexa M. Carr, Stephanie M. Roeter, & Jaymie L. Vandagriff
Department of Human Development, Washington State University

In response to the growing prevalence of mental health issues among college students, campuses across the nation are implementing animal-assisted stress reduction programs, despite a clear lack of evidence supporting their efficacy. Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine the effects of a universal, campus-based, animal-assisted stress prevention program on college students’ moment to moment emotion the week preceding final exams. Participants were randomized into three conditions; the experimental group engaged in a 10-minute long interaction with dogs and cats from the local humane society, the control group watched a 10-minute slide show featuring photos of the same animals, while the wait-listed group was assessed in response to waiting for 10 minutes for their turn to participate in the program. Immediately before and after the assigned intervention, participants completed a 25-item checklist assessing how content, irritable, anxious, and depressed they felt in that moment. At post-test, participants who engaged in a 10-minute interaction with live animals reported statistically significant higher levels of contentment, F(2, 181) = 9.30, p < .001, and lower levels of anxiety, F(2, 181) = 5.74, p < .01, and irritability, F(2, 181) = 5.44, p < .01, compared to students in the control and wait-listed groups. This study provides much-needed evidence in support of animal-assisted campus visitation programs, demonstrating that 10 minutes of human-animal interaction increases levels of positive emotion and decreases levels of negative emotion in college students approaching final examinations.

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