A new study conducted by scientists from Washington State University has found that petting a therapy dog on a regular basis could significantly reduce anxiety and enhance thinking skills in stressed-out students.
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The research found that animal-based stress management programs were more effective for struggling students. Upon completion of the four-week program with therapy dogs, participating students were shown to have improved cognitive skills that lasted for upwards of four weeks. Patricia Pendry, author of the paper and human-animal interaction expert said:
Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues.
This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren't as effective for this population as programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs.
The study involved recruiting 309 university students and enrolling each of them in an animal-human interactive therapy session designed to measure the participants ability to perform 'student executive functioning'—in other words, the skills that you need to plan, organise, concentrate, memorize facts and motivate yourself—considered to be essential for a successful academic run.
According to the studies findings, human-animal interaction programs help struggling students by allowing them to relax as they introspectively voice their concerns and their stressors rather than simply become consumed by them. Pendry concluded that:
We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.
These are really important topics, and these workshops are helping typical students succeed by teaching them how to manage stress. Being calm is helpful for learning especially for those who struggle with stress and learning.
But when you are looking at the ability to study, engage, concentrate and take a test, then having the animal aspect is very powerful.