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Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: The possible role of oxytocin

By Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, Henri Julius, Kurt Kotrschal

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During the last decade it has become more widely accepted that pet ownership and animal assistance in therapy and education may have a multitude of positive effects on humans. Here, we review the evidence from 69 original studies on human-animal interactions (HAI) which met our inclusion criteria with regard to sample size, peer-review, and standard scientific research design. Among the well-documented effects of HAI in humans of different ages, with and without special medical, or mental health conditions are benefits for: social attention, social behavior, interpersonal interactions, and mood; stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure; self-reported fear and anxiety; and mental and physical health, especially cardiovascular diseases. Limited evidence exists for positive effects of HAI on: reduction of stress-related parameters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine; improvement of immune system functioning and pain management; increased trustworthiness of and trust toward other persons; reduced aggression; enhanced empathy and improved learning. We propose that the activation of the oxytocin system plays a key role in the majority of these reported psychological and psychophysiological effects of HAI. Oxytocin and HAI effects largely overlap, as documented by research in both, humans and animals, and first studies found that HAI affects the oxytocin system. As a common underlying mechanism, the activation of the oxytocin system does not only provide an explanation, but also allows an integrative view of the different effects of HAI.


Deborah Maron

Publication Title Frontiers in Psychology
Volume 3
Pages 1-15
ISBN/ISSN 1664-1078
Publisher Frontiers Research Foundation
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
Notes This article is found in PubMed Central, published in Frontiers in Psychology and can be republished under Creative Commons.
Author Address Beetz, Andrea, Department of Special Education, Institut fur Sonderpadagogische Entwicklungsforderung und Rehabilitation, University of Rostock, August-Bebel-Strasse 28, 18055, Rostock, Germany
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Andrea Beetz; Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg; Henri Julius; Kurt Kotrschal (2012), "Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: The possible role of oxytocin,"

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  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Blood Pressure
  3. Companion
  4. Control
  5. Health
  6. Heart rate
  7. Human-animal interactions
  8. Immunity
  9. Interpersonal interactions
  10. Mammals
  11. Mental health and well-being
  12. nervous system
  13. open access
  14. Pain management
  15. Pet ownership
  16. social interactions
  1. open access