Universities offer academic stress management programs and workshops to help students transition into college and cope with the pressures of higher education. With the final season approaching, many campus welcome therapy dogs to libraries and dormitories to take a short break from studying.
A new study published this week in AERA Open magazine found that these very good doggos provide students with stress relief benefits that can last up to six weeks. Compared to traditional stress management methods, students with high Stress levels may think and plan more clearly after spending time with a therapy dog. reports Ed Cara for Gizmodo.
In recent years, therapy animals have grown in popularity due to their ability to provide comfort and support to people in hospitals and nursing homes. Various studies have shown that cuddling or interacting with a pet can lower levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and reduce feelings of loneliness.
The study author Patricia Pendry, who studies the interaction between humans and animals at Washington State University, has already shown in a study from 2019 that petting a therapy animal for at least ten minutes can relieve stress in the short term. In Pendry’s study of 200 undergraduate students, cortisol levels in saliva samples from students who were asked to observe the dogs were compared to those who were asked to pet or play with them. Sure enough The cortisol levels of the students who pet the animals fell briefly.
Following the 2019 study, Pendry and her team designed a three-year study that tested a total of 309 volunteer college students on leadership or cognitive skills such as organizing, planning, focusing, and memorizing. Before the experiment, each volunteer was examined for their stress level and a test was carried out to measure their executive function. A third of the total number of students were classified as at high risk of stress based on their recent academic performance or reported mental health, reports Gizmodo.
Each volunteer was divided into one of three experimental groups, consisting of either stress management workshops, petting dogs, or both, reports Stephen Luntz for IFLS. (Trained handlers are always present during interactions with therapy animals.)
The stress management workshop consisted of four weekly one-hour sessions that focused on stress prevention methods such as meditation and exercise. The therapy dog group petted and played with pooches while they talked about their stressors or learned about stress relief techniques, reports Gizmodo. The volunteers, who participated in both experimental groups, interacted with the dogs and took part in stress relief workshops.
The researchers found no differences in planning and organization between low-stress students. However, individuals who were prone to high levels of stress in the therapy dog group showed promising results. Compared to other experimental groups, highly stressed students who interact with dogs showed improved managerial functioning skills that lasted up to six weeks after the program ended, reports Gizmodo.
“The results have been very strong,” Pendry said in a statement. “We saw that the most at-risk students had the most improvements in managerial function in the state of human-animal interaction. These results were retained when we looked six weeks later.”
Stress relief programs that incorporate pets with therapy can help students relax while talking and thinking about their stressors without overwhelming themselves.
“Interestingly, our results suggest that these types of educational workshops are less effective for students with difficulty. It appears that students experience these programs as another lecture, which is exactly what makes students feel stressed,” Pendry said in one statement.
The researchers hope their results can be used to show that animal-assisted therapy can provide comfort and a host of benefits to anyone struggling with stress and anxiety, reports IFLS.