Barker, S.B., Barker, R.T., McCain, N.L., & Schubert, C.M. (2017). The effect of a canine-assisted activity on college student perceptions of family supports and current stressors. Anthrozoos, 30(4), 595-606.
Using data from a previously published study on effects of a canine-assisted activity (CAA) on college student stress the week before final exams, we examined whether participation in CAA had effects on perceptions of (1) family supports (i.e., emotional distance to family members and pets) and (2) current stressors. A total of 74 students completed the Family Life Space Diagram (FLSD), which uses an individual's structured drawings of distances between symbols of self and living entities, organizations, and stressors to reflect "emotional distances." Participants were randomly assigned to order of CAA or FLSD, which was the intervention study control condition. Groups completed the FLSD after participating in CAA (Group A, n=34) or prior to CAA (Group B, n=40). Participants were primarily white (56.8%) females (75.5%) with a mean age of 19.38 (SD=1.75). Significant differences with large effect sizes were found for both groups in distances between (1) self-closest and self-average family member (Group A: t=7.02, df=33, p<0.001, d=1.205; Group B: t=6.25, df=39, p<0.001, d=0.987) and (2) self-closest personal stressor (t=2.93, df=18, p=0.009, d=1.311) and self-average personal stressor (t=2.54, df=18, p=0.020, d=1.138). In both cases, Group A (FLSD following CAA). placed personal steressors in closer proximinty to self. Although CAA did not affect students' current perceptions of family and pet relationships, the intervention may have increased their abilities to cope with personal stressors. Modified stress theory supports the proposition that positive emotions associated with CAA engaged positive coping strategies, resulting in more positive perceptions of stressors.