Barker, S.B., Barker, R.T., McCain, N.L, and Schubert, C.M. (2016). A randomized crossover exploratory study of the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college student stress before final exams. Anthrozoos, 29 (1), 35-46.
This exploratory study investigated the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college student perceived and physiological stress the week prior to final exams. Students (n=78) were randomly assigned to order of a therapy dog intervention and attention-control condition, each 15 minutes long. Students completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a stress visual analog scale (SVAS), and provided saliva for measuring nerve growth factor (sNGF) and alpha amylase (sAA) prior to randomization. Saliva samples and SVAS were again collected after each condition. There was no effect of group order on demographics, PSS, or initial SVAS. Repeated measures models were used to analyze the complete data sets of 57 students. There were no significant differences in sAA between or within students completing the intervention and control conditions. sNGF was not subjected to analysis since most levels were undetectable. Significant differences in SVAS scores were found between the intervention and control condition with large effect sizes. SVAS scores were lower following the intervention, regardless of condition order (intervention first, p=0.0001, d=1.87; intervention second, p=0.0004, d=1.63). No SVAS differences were found for the control condition. Based on these findings, campus events with visiting therapy dogs represent a cost-effective, easily accessible activity to reduce perceived, but not physiological, stress for college students prior to final exams.