The acute vulnerability of university students as a group is highlighted by reports of significantly rising levels of psychological distress when starting school and during their entire time in university. Specifically, it appears that the transition to university life is characteristically stressful, marred by anxiety and depression as the most commonly faced psychological issues. These issues in turn impact their academic success and their physical health. Poor coping strategies such as avoidance and self-punishment further compound the situation, suggesting the need for improved ways to reduce stress and improve students’ mental health.
Interacting with animals could be an adequate way to relieve stress, as studies show some psychological benefits gained by owning a pet, including improved mood and reduced anxiety. The effects of pet ownership however is a subject of contention as mixed findings have been reported. Despite the discouraging results, pet therapy programs are sprawling throughout university campuses, and they involve a large group of students interacting with dogs at the same time over a single session.
Those programs demonstrate positive effects of pet interactions on students’ level of loneliness and anxiety. Notably, dogs appear to provide social support, comfort, increased happiness and reduced depression. One particular study reported lower levels of cortisol and reduced heart rate among participants in an experimental procedure who were in the presence of a dog compared to those who were not.
Furthermore, consistent with past research, the current study provides more evidence of the positive effects of interacting with a dog on university students’ mood and anxiety. In fact, students reported increased happiness and reduced anxiety and sadness immediately after the interaction with the dog.
Thelwell E. (2019). Paws for Thought: A Controlled Study Investigating the Benefits of Interacting with a House-Trained Dog on University Students Mood and Anxiety. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 9(10), 846. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100846