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Brief unstructured interaction with a dog reduces distress

By M. K. Crossman, A. E. Kazdin, K. Knudson

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In 2013, 11% of the US population experienced serious psychological distress. This problem of psychological distress is exacerbated in colleges and universities, where more than half of students report experiencing moderate to severe depression. In spite of the prevalence of this psychological distress, the vast majority of these students do not receive treatment. To address the problem of psychological distress among students, many universities have instituted animal visitation programs (AVPs). These popular programs provide opportunities for participants to interact with animals (usually dogs), with the goal of alleviating distress. However, empirical evidence for the effectiveness of these programs is lacking. We therefore conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the influence of a single, brief interaction with a dog on the subjective experience of anxiety and mood in a sample of students and medical residents ( n=67). We compared the impact of interactions with a dog to the effects of viewing (but not interacting with) the same dog, and the effects of a no-treatment control. We found that interacting with a dog reduced anxiety and negative mood, and increased positive mood relative to the control conditions. These effects were large, providing direct support for the model of AVPs already in widespread use in colleges and universities, as well as primary schools, hospitals, dentist's offices, courthouses, nursing homes, airports, and Veteran's Affairs facilities. In addition, our findings suggest that future research on AVPs is needed to elucidate when and how these are most potent. The results of that research may be used to maximize the benefits of these programs, which are already so widespread.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 28
Issue 4
Pages 649-659
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1070008
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, Yale University, Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520-8205,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Air
  2. Animals
  3. Anthrozoology
  4. Canidae
  5. Canine
  6. Carnivores
  7. Dogs
  8. Effect
  9. Efficacy
  10. Homes
  11. Hospitals
  12. Incidence
  13. Interactions
  14. Mammals
  15. models
  16. Nursing homes
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. Schools
  19. students
  20. Universities and Colleges
  21. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed