Researchers from Washington State University have discovered an added bonus of spending time with dogs and cats: beating stress.
The researchers took their study to a college campus. After having stressed students pet the animals for as little as ten minutes, the team found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were significantly reduced.
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” said researcher Patricia Pendry. “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”
Getting close and comfortable
The researchers divided nearly 250 college students into four groups. All of the students involved in the study left several saliva samples, taken at various points of the day -- both before and after animal interaction -- which the researchers were later able to test for cortisol levels.
The first group of students was the only one that had contact with the animals, as they played and interacted freely for ten minutes, whereas the second group waited in line, casually observing the students in the first group who got that hands-on time. The third group was shown pictures of the animals while they waited for their turn, and the fourth group had no outside entertainment and was simply told it would be their turn with the animals soon, though their turn never came.
The study revealed that time with the animals, however brief, left the students with significantly lower levels of cortisol than when they started the day.
“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact,” said Pendry. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”
The researchers were pleased with these findings and are now working to develop a longer term stress prevention program that would involve animals.