Incorporating Human Animal Interaction into Academic Stress Management Programs: Effects on Typical and At-Risk College Students’ Executive Function

Published Online in:
May 12, 2021

Patricia PendryWashington State University
Alexa Carr, Washington State University
Jaymie L. VandagriffWashington State University
Nancy Gee, Virginia Commonwealth University

Implementation of university-based animal-assisted stress-prevention programs is increasing despite limited knowledge about impacts on students’ academic success. This randomized trial (N = 309) examined the effects of a 4-week stress-prevention program with varying levels of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) and evidence-based content presentations on students’ executive functioning (EF). Effects were examined while considering the moderating role of students’ risk status (N = 121), based on history of academic failure, suicidal ideation, mental health and learning issues. Intent-to-treat analyses showed that at-risk students showed highest levels of EF (B= 4.74, p=.018) and metacognition (B=4.88, p=.013) at posttest in the condition featuring 100% HAI, effects which remained 6 weeks later (B Global EF =4.48, p=.028; B Metacognition =5.31, p=.009). Since evidenced-based content presentations did not confer benefits for at-risk students’ EF, even when offered in combination with HAI, universities should consider providing at-risk students with targeted programs emphasizing exposure to HAI.

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Read the press release: "Interacting with Therapy Dogs Can Improve Struggling College Students’ “Thinking” Skills.

Study citation: Pendry, P., Carr, A., Vandagriff, J. L., & Gee, N. (2021). (2021). Incorporating human animal interaction into academic stress management programs: effects on typical and at-risk college students’ executive function. AERA Open. Published May 12, 2021.