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A randomized cross-over exploratory study of the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college student stress before final exams

By S. B. Barker, R. T. Barker, N. L. McCain, C. M. Schubert

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This exploratory study investigated the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college-student perceived and physiological stress the week prior to final exams. Students (n=78) were randomly assigned to order of a therapy-dog intervention and attention-control condition, each 15 minutes long. Students completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a stress visual analog scale (SVAS), and provided saliva for measuring nerve growth factor (sNGF) and alpha amylase (sAA), prior to randomization. Saliva samples and SVAS were again collected after each condition. There was no effect of group order on demographics, PSS, or initial SVAS. Repeated measures models were used to analyze the complete data sets of 57 students. There were no significant differences in sAA between or within students completing the intervention and control conditions. sNGF was not subjected to analysis as most levels were undetectable. Significant differences in SVAS scores were found between the intervention and control condition, with large effect sizes. SVAS scores were lower following the intervention, regardless of condition order (intervention first, p=0.0001, d=1.87; intervention second, p=0.0004, d=1.63). No SVAS differences were found for the control condition. Based on these findings, campus events with visiting therapy dogs represent a cost-effective, easily accessible activity to reduce perceived, but not physiological, stress for college students prior to final exams.

Publication Title Anthrozoƶs
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 35-46
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1069988
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychiatry, Center for Human-Animal Interaction, Virginia Commonwealth University, P. O. Box 980710, Richmond, VA 23298-0710,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Animals
  4. Animal science
  5. Anthrozoology
  6. Behavioral research
  7. Biochemistry
  8. Canidae
  9. Canine
  10. Carnivores
  11. Dogs
  12. Effect
  13. Enzymes
  14. Growth
  15. Human behavior
  16. Humans
  17. Interventions
  18. Mammals
  19. Men
  20. models
  21. Pets and companion animals
  22. physiology
  23. Primates
  24. Psychiatry and psychology
  25. Relationships
  26. saliva
  27. Social psychology and social anthropology
  28. students
  29. therapy
  30. vertebrates
  31. Zoology