Childhood disability related to mental and neurological conditions is on the rise. Conservative estimates indicate that nearly 40% of Americans will experience a psychiatric disorder before age 17. Stress related symptoms are particularly common in childhood and adolescence, and are associated with deleterious outcomes including absence from school, chronic pain, and psychopathology in adulthood. Interactions with animals offer an efficient, appealing, enjoyable, low cost, and easily implemented intervention to reduce stress-related problems and improve mental health. Rigorous research is needed to establish the precise benefits of interactions with animals, how those benefits are conveyed, and what steps can be taken to maximize those benefits.
This project will evaluate the influence of brief interactions with dogs on stress-related symptoms in order to establish a foundation of evidence on the precise benefits of interactions with animals for children.
We will test three specific hypotheses in service to this goal. Hypothesis 1 is that interaction with a dog will reduce state anxiety and arousal. Hypothesis 2 is that interaction with a dog will reduce negative affect. Hypothesis 3 is that interaction with a dog will increase positive affect.