WSU study finds that petting animals chemically reduces stress levels
PULLMAN, Wash. — Universities across the country have dabbled in animal therapy programs for their students. With busy schedules, bills, exams, and responsibilities, petting a dog is sometimes the best remedy.
According to researchers at Washington State University, there is a genuine chemical response you feel when you’re scratching under a cat’s ears.
“Just ten minutes can have a significant impact,” says Patricia Pendry, associate professor of WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”
Pendry and WSU graduate student Jaymie Vandagriff published these findings in AERA Open, an open access journal published by the American Educational Research Association.
The findings are expected, but this is the first time they have been scientifically tested.
The study included 249 college students divided into four groups. The first group played with the dogs and cats for ten minutes. The second group watched while they waited for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the animals while they waited, and the fourth group waited without any stimuli — including phones and reading material.
During the experiment, cortisol samples were collected from the students’ saliva, starting first thing in the morning. Considering that certain people having naturally higher stress levels, those who played with the animals had markedly less cortisol in their saliva.
Pendry remarked on her findings:
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions. What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”
The next step in their research is experimenting with a four-week-long stress prevention program, of course with the help of cute animals. Early results are positive, with a follow-up study in the works.
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