Researchers at Washington State University have found that petting a dog or cat can relieve stress in just 10 minutes — and it's another brilliant reason to adopt one of your own.
Scientists wanted to see if anxiety levels would decrease in highly-stressed university students after spending time around pet animals. They asked 249 students to take part in the experiment and then divided them into four different groups.
The first group took part in a hands-on interaction with dogs and cats for 10 minutes, while the second group watched and waited their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals available during the intervention, while the fourth group were "waitlisted."
What did the study find?
The following morning, the scientists collected salivary cortisol samples from each of the participants and found that the students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol (a stress hormone) in their saliva after petting the animals.
"Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact. Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone," Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development explained in the study.
"We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions. 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," Patricia continues.
Also in the study, researchers found that many universities are now offering students "Pet Your Stress Away" programmes, where they can spend time enjoying the company of dogs and cats to alleviate their stress. As well as improving students' moods, pets can help them to feel more at ease during exam season.
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