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Can dogs increase children's attention and concentration performance? A randomised controlled trial

By Karin Hediger, Dennis C Turner

Category Journal Articles

Many practitioners report that the presence of an animal, or interaction with an animal, increases the attention and concentration of children, elderly persons or patients. Previous studies support this impression via indirect variables, but direct effects on children's attention performance have not yet been measured. We therefore designed a study that used neuropsychological concentration tasks to test the effect of the presence of dogs, and contact with dogs, on children's performance. In a randomised, controlled crossover trial, 24 children between 10-14 years completed a memory task and three neuropsychological attention tests. We also used passive infrared hemoencephalography (PIR HEG) to assess a biological correlate of attention. The children interacted with either a trained therapy dog or the robotic dog AIBO for 15 minutes before they completed the tests. We found that the learning effect in the memory test, as well as in the neuropsychological attention test "Cancellation Screen", was significantly enhanced (p= 0.021) when children were in the presence of, or interacted with the dog. No such effect was found in the two attention tests, "Continuous Performance Test" and "Divided Attention Bimodal". In the presence of the robotic dog, attention processes measured in frontal brain activity, via PIR HEG, were significantly reduced over time during the test "Divided Attention Bimodal" (p < .001). These processes did not decrease in the presence of the real dog. We found no such difference during the two other attention tests. Moreover, the PIR HEG signal was significantly higher in general in all three attention tests in the presence of the dog. We conclude that interacting with a dog, or the presence of a dog, may increase children's attention and concentration performance.

Date 2014
Publication Title Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin
Volume 2
Issue 2
Pages 21-39
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animals
  4. Attention
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Children
  9. Dogs
  10. Focus
  11. Human-animal interactions
  12. Humans
  13. Mammals
  14. Memory
  15. Men
  16. Mental ability
  17. Older adults
  18. open access
  19. peer-reviewed
  20. Pets and companion animals
  21. Primates
  22. therapy
  23. vertebrates
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed