Petting Therapy Dogs Enhances Thinking Skills Of Stressed College Students

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Mental Health, Stress, Well-being | 0 comments

A dog might be the finest stress reliever available for stressed-out college students.

According to recent Washington State University research, programs that were only centered on petting therapy dogs helped anxious students think and plan more successfully than those that included incorporated conventional stress-management advice.

The study was released in the American Educational Research Association’s peer-reviewed journal AERA Open. The study found that stressed students continued to show these gains in cognitive functioning up to six weeks after the four-week program ended.

“It’s a really powerful finding,” Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in the WSU Department of Human Development, said. Universities are working very hard to support students who may be at risk for academic failure due to a history of mental health disorders or academic and learning difficulties. This study demonstrates that programs that emphasize giving participants chances to interact with therapy dogs are more successful for this demographic than typical stress management techniques.

The 309 students who took part in the study had their executive functioning assessed by the researchers. “All the big cognitive skills that are needed to succeed in college,” according to Pendry, include the ability to plan, organize, motivate, concentrate, and memorize.

Pendry’s research was a follow-up to earlier findings that stroking animals has physiological effects, lowering pupils’ short-term stress levels after just 10 minutes.

Students were randomly assigned to one of three academic stress-management programs that included various ratios of human-animal interaction and research-based academic stress management during the three-year study. Palouse Paws, a local branch of Pet Partners, a nationwide organization with over 10,000 therapy teams, provided the canines and volunteer handlers.

“The results were very strong,” states Pendry. “We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having the most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.”

Academic stress management workshops and programs are offered by several colleges, including WSU, for a long time. These frequently resemble college classes in that the students observe slide shows, pay attention to the expert, and take notes. They frequently cover techniques for increasing sleep, setting goals, or controlling stress or anxiety and are evidence-based courses.

These courses teach students how to manage stress, which helps them achieve because these are highly crucial issues, according to Pendry. Interestingly, however, research indicates that these instructional sessions may be less successful for students who are having trouble. These programs appear to be perceived by students as just another lecture, which is exactly what makes them feel overwhelmed.

Programs that promote human-animal contact assist struggling students by allowing them to unwind while talking and reflecting on their worries. They are more likely to unwind and handle these pressures through stroking animals than to become overwhelmed. According to Pendry, this improves pupils’ capacity for thought, goal-setting, motivation, concentration, and memory of what they have learned.

She claims, “If you’re stressed, you can’t think or take up information; learning about stress is stressful!” Animal sessions assist kids in developing positive attitudes and behaviors in addition to modifying their behavior. “You can’t learn math just by being chill,” Pendry explains. “But when you are looking at the ability to study, engage, concentrate, and take a test, then having the animal aspect is very powerful. Being calm is helpful for learning, especially for those who struggle with stress and learning.”


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