A new Washington State University study has found that interacting with animals can decrease stress in humans.
“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact,” said Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”
249 college students were separated into four groups for the study. The research was the first study that demonstrated reductions in students’ cortisol levels during a real-life intervention rather than in a laboratory setting.
For the study, the first group could play with and pet cats and dogs for 10 minutes. The second group waited in line for their turn and watched other people play with the animals. The third group watched a slideshow of animals available to be played with. The fourth group waited for their turn for 10 minutes with no interruptions and were told they would get to see the animals soon.
When the participants woke up, they submitted several saliva samples to measure cortisol.
The study found that students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction, even while considering that some students may have had very high or low levels to begin with.
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” Pendry said.
“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.”