Stress can be defined as “a negative
emotional experience accompanied by various physiological, cognitive and
The experience can reach to any individual and generate unfavourable outcomes as
such as; sleeping problems, anxiety, social withdrawal, and many more2.
Moreover, stress can be diagnosed
via many means; biometrically or biologically. Biometrically, stress can be
measured throughout the use of questionnaires,
interviews, state scales of the State – Trait Anxiety Inventory and many more.
However, biological tests appear to be used more often due to their greater
reliability. To biologically identity if an individual is stressed, the blood pressure, heart rate, fingertip
temperature and/or cortisol levels can
Over the years, researchers have
developed a multitudinous number of methods to cope with stress but few have
seen to be effective. Coping strategies as such as Mindfulness- Based Stress
Reduction and Social support have been tested, nevertheless, a method which
looks to be most debated seems to be the utilization of pets, establishing the
research question; To what extent do
pets positively reduce stress levels in individuals?
Over the repeated study, Allen et
al. (1991) supports that pets positively and significantly impact one’s stress
levels throughout the measuring of blood pressure and heart rate3.
Additionally, Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) has been supported to be effective
in the reduction of stress among individuals by Barker and Dawson in 19984
as well as Cole et al. in 20075.
Although the studies
experimented via different means and collected results via different biological
measurements, they all do support the positive impact of pets on the reduction
of stress levels in individuals.
the other hand, Straatman et al. (1997), compared an experimental
group in the presence of a dog to a control group without a dog. Results showed
no significant impact of pets on stress levels of individuals thus creating an
enigma on the role of pets as a stress reduction method6.
Due to the endless debating of the
utilization of pets towards stress levels reduction, this essay will therefore,
with a balanced view, discuss the research question by comparing and evaluating
studies. This research question is worthy of investigation as every year, the
pet population increases, as do mental health and well-being positive and
Studies on the positive biological
impact of pets in reducing stress
It has been for
years debated whether pets impact human beings’ stress levels or not. Many
studies across the world have found that pets do in fact reduce stress levels
of individuals, nevertheless, to what extent do they impact humans has yet to
In 1999, Allen
et al. carried out a study with aim to examine the owning of pets and their
impact as social help. The investigators more specifically researched if owning
a pet could possibly diminish stress by utilizing a sample of 48 participants
from New York City stockbrokers (with an equivalent number of men and women)
who experienced psychological stress. All participants were living alone and
were treated with drugs against hypertension. For the experiment to be set, every
one of the participants needed to willingly acquire a pet. Half of the
participants were randomly allocated with a cat or a dog while the other half
was kept as a control. Blood pressure as well as heart rate were measured before
the drug therapy started and half a year later.
The researchers found
that participants who claimed a pet over the investigation remained
significantly more stable than the control group. It was therefore concluded by
the scientists that the stress symptoms such as blood pressure and heart rate decreases
when owning a loving pet7.
that Allen et al.’ s study presented is that though the assumption can be made
that pets create a soothing environment; their study has a very restricted
generalization as the participants were particular to one employment and to a constrained
interpersonal organization thus upholding a small window for generalization
(N=48). Nevertheless, the experimental validity is high due to the natural
environment in which the experiment was led thus allowing a higher validity of
results. As per this study, pets do positively and to a high extent impact
stress levels in individuals which strengthens the utilization of this method.
carried by Allen et al., 1999, has been replicated numerous times before and
after the research, yet, each time the sample was composed differently. Allen
et al. in 1991 used a sample of adult women whereas Allen et al. in 2001 used
adults with hypertension and Allen et al. in 2002 used adults and married
couple. Still, all studies followed one aim; to test the effect of pets during
a stressor or stress task on individuals. All three studies resulted with a
lower blood pressure and heart rate signifying lower stress levels8.
The strengthening replication of the study across the years strongly supports
that pets do have a positive and significant impact on stress reduction levels
of human beings. Not only did the studies were replicated which strengthen the
reliability of the results but the use of different samples could be due to the
focus of improving the number or type of participants in order to increase the
validity of the results and create a greater impact on the positive impact of
pets as stress reduction approach.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a
type of therapy which involves animals as a type of treatment which aims to improve one’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning.
Led by Barker and Dawson in 1998, AAT was used to reduce anxiety
levels of hospitalized psychiatric patients. The crossover study consisted of
230 patients psychiatrically hospitalized which was then divided into two
groups. One group underwent a single Animal-Assisted Therapy session and the
other one a single regularly scheduled therapeutic recreation session. The
patients were asked to complete a state scale of the State -Trait Anxiety
Inventory (a self-report measure of anxiety) before and after their
participation. Results showed a significant reduction in anxiety in the Animal-Assisted
Therapy group for patients with psychotic disorders, mood disorders and other
disorders as well as in the therapeutic recreation group for patients with mood
disorders. The experimenters concluded that Animal-Assisted Therapy was linked
with reduced state of anxiety levels for hospitalised patients with a large
range of psychiatric diagnoses and therapeutic recreation sessions with reduced
levels of stress for patients with only mood disorders9.
The study can
further be generalized to a larger population due to its original large sample
size (N=230). Moreover, although the participants were part of a controlled
study which automatically increases the experimental validity, the patients
were hospitalized due to natural causes hence increasing the ecological
validity of the study which consequently reinforces the reliability of the
results and supports that pets reduces one’s stress level to a great extent.
support, Cole et al. (2007) used AAT to investigate
whether a 12-minute hospital visit with a therapy dog would improve certain
conditions of 76 adult patients with advance heart failure. Through the randomized repeated-measures
experimental design, the study divided the
patients into three groups; group 1 received a 12-minute visit from a volunteer
with a therapy dog, group 2; a 12-minute visit from a volunteer and group 3;
usual care (control group). The data was measured at baseline, 8 minutes after
baseline as well as 16 minutes after baseline and showed a significant decrease
in systolic pulmonary artery pressure and pulmonary capillary wedge pressure as
well as an important decrease in state anxiety in group 1 compared to the other
groups10. As the study was carried
out through a randomized repeated-measures experimental design, it can be
evaluated that there is a high experimental. Additionally, the study can also
be identified to have a high ecological validity due to natural environment the
patients regularly live in. Although the study can only be generalized to patients
with advance heart failure and not to a wider population it can yet be
concluded that the results are reliable.
In 2011, it was
concluded by Beetz et al., that there is a strong connection between lower
cortisol level and the physical contact with a dog thus supporting the research
question. The experiment was composed of 31 children aged 7 to 12 with
difficulties to create bonds/socialize with others. The children were placed in
different social supports composed of either a dog, an adult or a toy dog
during a social stressor. As results from the experiment, lower cortisol levels
were found in the group of children assigned a dog11.
A year before, in 2010, Viau et al. found results akin to Beetz et al. (2011). The
experimenters measured the cortisol levels of 42 children with
autistic-spectrum disorder before and after the placement of a service dog
among their families as well as after its removal for a short period of time.
As results, there was no change in the average diurnal cortisol levels however
the cortisol awakening response decreased significantly from 58% to 10% in the
morning with the presence of the dog and increased back to 48% when the dog was
removed which supports that pets positively and significantly reduce stress
levels in individuals12.
A last study
which found positive and significant results was led by Barker et al. in 2005.
The 35 adult psychiatric patients were divided into two groups; group 1 – 15min reading and group 2 – 15min with animal.
Results showed lower salivary and serum cortisol level in the dog condition.
This study therefore supports that pets positively impact stress levels of
individuals to a high extent13.
are numerous studies which support the owning of a pet due to its positive and
significant ways of helping in one’s stress levels diminishing. Regardless,
until today, countless studies have supported that pets influence humans’ stress
levels to a high extent whether it is positive or negative.
Studies on the ineffectual impact of pets in reducing
Albeit that many
studies find that pets can positively reduce stress levels of individuals to a
high extent, oppositely many studies support that pets to not influence the
levels of stress among human beings.
As for example, a study carried out by Wright,
Kritz-Silverstein, Morton, Wingard and Barrett-Connor (2007) found no
differences in blood pressure or risk of hypertension between pet and non-pet
The study was conducted on community-dwelling individuals from which 498 were
men and 681 were women, all aged 50 to 95 years old15.
A mailed questionnaire with a clinic visit was to be done by the individuals in
which their blood pressure was assessed. As results, pet owners had a lower
systolic blood pressure than non-pet owners, however when analysed, potential
confounding variables as such as age were included and therefore no differences
between the pet owners and the non-pet owners was concluded thus supporting
that pets have no impact on stress levels in individuals16.
Furthermore, Straatman et al. (1997) carried out a
study to investigate whether the presence (group 1) or absence (group
2/control) of an unfamiliar dog during a stressful speech task would impact
stress factors. The outcome of the study showed no significant difference in
anxiety, heart rate or blood pressure between the two groups17.
As per their results, both studies support that pets impact individual’s stress
levels to a low extent.
Altogether, many studies support that pet have no
impact on one’s stress levels and therefore pets impact individual’s stress
levels to a low extent. However due to the neutral results of those studies,
the replicating of each of them would be advantageous as to ensure the
reliability of those results.
Studies on the positive cognitive
and social impact of pets in reducing stress
The cognitive level of analysis can be defined as ‘how mental
processes such as perception, attention, language, memory and thinking in the
brain processes information18’ and the sociocultural
level of analysis as ‘the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings
and behaviors are influences by actual, implied or imagined presence of others19′. Various studies have concluded that pets do in fact improve certain functions of the two
levels of analysis which builds a major part of our personality.
For example, in 2002, Hergovich et al. carried out a study to
investigate a dog’s presence among a classroom for three months on field
independence, empathy towards animals, social competence and social-emotional
atmosphere. The sample of 46 first grades of two school classes was divided
into an experimental and controlled group. The obtained results showed a
significant improvement in field independence and empathy with animals in the
experimental group; the children with the dog. Moreover, the companionship of
the dog promoted the buildup of autonomous functioning as well as greater
separation of self/non-self. Adding on, from the teachers’ observations, the
pupils from the experimental group seemed to have displayed a better social
integration and there appeared to be fewer belligerent students compared to the
control group. Overall, the researchers concluded that a dog can be a valuable
factor in the social and cognitive development of children20. Certain obtained results
as such as ‘less aggression’, ‘more empathy’ and ‘more social integration’
could be from a reducing of stress in the individuals hence due to the
companionship of a dog.
Among our five human senses, Dr. Håkan Olausson; professor of
clinical neuroscience and leading touch researcher at Linköping University in
Sweden, explains that there are specific emotion-related fibers which are
responsible for the neurotransmission of the identification of gentle slow stroked
and caresses activity21. Hence, these findings
support the importance of touch thus the one of petting an animal. To justify
this statement, Shiloh et al. (2003) explored the effect of petting an animal
on anxiety. Through a repeated-measures within-session experiment, 58
non-clinical participants were first exposed to a Tarantula, spider and were
asked to possibly pet it; acting a stressor. The participants were then divided
into five groups; petting a rabbit (group 1), petting a turtle (group 2), petting
a toy rabbit (group 3), petting a toy turtle (group 4) or in a control group
(group 5). After carrying out a state-anxiety assessment at baseline, after the
stressor and after the experimentation, findings revealed that petting an
animal does reduce anxiety levels. Furthermore, the diminishing of anxiety levels
did not only apply to animal lovers but also to people with various attitudes
towards animals. The researchers concluded that the discourse tends to
conceivable emotional and cognitive establishments of the observed impacts and
As seen through Barker and Dawson’s
(1998) and Cole et al.’s (2007) studies, AAT seems to biologically positively
reduce stress in individuals, but likewise, supported by Marr et al. (2000), AAT
can also reduce stress of individuals as well as improve certain aspects of
their sociocultural behavior. The study investigated the effect of AAT on
prosocial behaviors. The randomized sample consisted of sixty-nine male and
female psychiatric inpatients which were consecutively divided into two groups.
The experimental group was psychiatrically rehabilitated with AAT and the
control group simply psychiatrically rehabilitated. For four weeks, an
independent rater would everyday test the Social Behavior Scale on patients to
monitor any changes. By week four, patients allocated in the experimental group
were significantly more interactive with other patients, did better on measures
of pleasure and smiles, showed to be more sociable and helpful, were more
responsible to their encircling as well as were more active. The obtained
results convey that AAT plays an important role in improving the benefits of
conventional therapy and displays the importance of using a longitudinal,
repeated measure design. Among the biological factors which have been reduced
by the fourth week, stress could most likely be one significant factor which
has allowed the individuals to develop improved behaviors. Previous studies
might have failed to find significant effects due to their restricted interval
times for the measuring of outcomes23.
Bandura (1977) suggested
the social learning hypothesis as an expansion of existing learning
speculations. SLT depends on the presumption that individuals learn practices,
demeanours, enthusiastic responses and standards through direct encounters yet
additionally through watching different humans. We take in results of conduct
from watching the end result for different people. Once such data is put away
in memory it fills in as a manual for future activities. Individuals will
probably copy conduct that has positive results. Social learning can be
immediate by means of directions or aberrant24.
Nevertheless, can the theory only be generalized to learning from humans?
A study led by
Gee et al. (2007) aimed to investigate the effect of the presence of a dog on
motivation to complete motor skills tasks. 14 language-impaired preschool male
and female children aged between 4 to 6 years old participated in the study in
which they had to carry out 10 gross motor skills tasks (e.g. high jump, long
jump). The set of children were divided into two groups; the experimental group
which performed by the company of a dog and the control group which performed
on their own. Per the dog assisting group, the pet effectuated the task prior
to or at the same time as the children. As anticipated by the researchers, the
children from the experimental group finished the task faster than the one’s in
the control group. It was then concluded by the investigators that the
companionship of a dog served as an effective motivator for the infants who
performed quicker and without disturbing the precision of all but one task. Additionally,
the researchers suggested the use of therapy dogs among speech and language
development programs for children in preschool25.
results of the studies could be due to many factors that the dog triggered in
the children when about to perform the task. For example; as the children were
focused on the dog which was a motivator, the stress of the children lowered
and allowed them to perform better. Their concentration was possibly not based
on the examiner nor the pressure to obtain good scores but on the dog itself
thus reducing the stress levels in the body. Moreover, the dog led the students
to perform faster and better results than the control group suggesting that the
pet is a motivator in learning. Hence, this study supports the theory of
Bandura (1977) and the research question as the pet led to lower stress levels
driving to and an increase in learning time (cognitive process).
countless variables (e.g. modern or old-fashion culture, western or eastern
culture, religion, lifestyle, etc.) that can affect results of studies and more
specifically, to what extent do pets impact the stress levels of individuals.
One important variable which must be taken into consideration is whether the
culture in which the study was led is individualistic or collectivist. An
example of a cultural clash would be, according to the Communicaid Group LTD
in the US and Europe, dogs are loved and considered as a fantastic pet to have
in a familial home. Nevertheless, in other cultures as such as those who
practice Islam, dogs are seen to be filthy or dangerous thus affecting the
stress levels of individuals due to their perception of pets, yet, this cannot
be generalized to the whole Islamic population due to mind-set differences
which will impact whether one conforms to the beliefs of Islam or not.
From a personal
led survey, as per pet owners as well as from personal experience; pets seem to
make individuals happier and less stressed due to the companionship, caring and
love they bring us. They for most, allow them to socialize more and build
relationships with others. Hence, this supports the positive biological,
cognitive and social impact of pets on human beings.
Across this essay,
studies have been analysed and contradicted. As for example, the replication of
Allen et al. (1991) has strongly supported the effect of pets on the reduction
of stress levels in individuals but was later on contradicted by Straatman et
al. (1997) which found neutral results. Furthermore, it was also supported by
Hergovich et al. (2002), Shiloh et al. (2003), Marr et al. (2000) and Gee et
al. (2007) that pets play an important role in the creation and building up of
cognitive and social processes in humans.
it cannot be directly concluded whether pets impact stress levels of
individuals to a high or low extent due to the countless studies opposing each
other. Nevertheless, per most studies and the support of personal experience as
well as a personal led survey, pets seem majorly to have a positive and significant
impact on the reduction of stress levels in individuals thus possibly concluding
that pets do positively reduce stress levels of individuals. Presuming that
pets definitely positively reduce stress levels of individuals to a high
extent, this raises a multitude of subsidiary questions as such as, could pets work as a placebo effect? To what extent can culture impact whether a
pet can reduce one’s stress levels? To
what extent can gender impact whether
a pet can reduce one’s stress levels?
Do pets understand when an individual has high levels of stress? Thus, to answer those questions,
further research, analysis and discussion would be needed to be carried out.