THE EFFECT OF INTERACTION WITH A THERAPY DOG ON COLLEGE STUDENT STRESS LEVELS AS MEASURED BY PHYSIOLOGICAL INDICATORS
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Although animal-assisted activities have been shown to reduce stress, few studies have examined the stress reduction effects of therapy dogs on college student stress levels. Many college students experience increased stress levels due to the unique experience of college. These higher levels of stress can have negative consequences such as increased drinking, dysfunctional coping mechanisms, and more. This creates a need for alternative methods of stress reduction. Animal assisted activities (AAA) is a growing area of interest that has many benefits including stress reduction. However, few studies provide empirical evidence for stress reduction based on physiological measures. Of the studies that have incorporated physiological measures, results have proved to be inconsistent. Furthermore, even though stress relieving programs are increasing in popularity on college campuses, few studies have examined the stress reduction effects of therapy dogs on college student stress levels. College students were recruited and randomly assigned to an experimental condition (with a therapy dog and human handler present) or a control condition (with no therapy dog or human handler present). Participants were outfitted with equipment to measure systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and skin temperature. They watched a 10 minute video and were asked quiz questions about the content of the video to mildly elevate their stress. The accuracy of their answers was also recorded. After the experiment, participants in the experimental condition were ask qualitative questions about their experience with the therapy dog. Data was analyzed using a Within-Between ANOVA design. Results and implications are discussed.