The Effect of Brief Human-Animal Interaction on the Stress, Mood, and Anxiety levels of Undergraduate Students during a Finals Examination Period

Research Poster
Shannon Kelley
Kimberly Cole
Department of Animal Sciences

Student mental health is a significant and increasing concern on college campuses across the United States. Prior research has shown that the presence of a companion animal may reduce one’s stress and anxiety. The purpose of this study was to determine if interacting with animals influences mood, anxiety, and stress of college students during a period of elevated workload (final exams) in a semester. Undergraduate students were randomly assigned to a five-minute session in which the participant either interacted with animals belonging to one of three species (HAI) or watched a video about that animal species (VIDEO). Immediately prior to the session, students completed a demographic/animal experience survey and three self-reported mental health assessments: the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and the Dundee State Stress Questionnaire (DSSQ) to evaluate mood, anxiety, and stress. After the session, students completed another PANAS, STAI, and DSSQ.  Survey and scale data were analyzed using PROC MIXED in SAS v. 9.4. A p-value of ≤ 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Positive affect decreased in the VIDEO group from pre- to post-measures (p<0.001) but did not change in the HAI group. In contrast, energetic arousal decreased in the HAI group (p<0.001) but did not change in the VIDEO group. Tension and anxiety levels decreased in both HAI and VIDEO groups (p<0.001). Negative affect also decreased in both HAI and VIDEO (p<0.01) groups. These findings indicate that HAI may influence student mood and stress during periods of elevated workload in a semester.