Stress can be defined as “a negative emotional
experience accompanied by various physiological, cognitive and behavioural
reactions” (Psychology for The IB Diploma, 2012, p.841).
The experience can reach to any individual and bring out unfavourable outcomes as
such as; sleeping problems, anxiety, social withdrawal, and many more (Mayo
Clinic, 20162).

 

Stress can be diagnosed via many means;
inorganically or biologically. Inorganically, stress can be measured throughout
questionnaires, interviews, state scale of
the State – Trait Anxiety Inventory and many more. However, biological
tests appear to be used more often and are more reliable. To biologically find
out if an individual is stressed, the blood
pressure, heart rate, fingertip temperature and cortisol levels can be measured.

 

Over the years, researchers have developed a
multitudinous number of methods to cope with stress but few have seen to be
effective. Coping strategies as such as Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction
(MBSR) (Shapiro et al. 19983)
and Social support (Neuling and Winefield. 19884)
have been tested, nevertheless, a method which looks to be most debated seems
to be the utilization of pets furthermore, raising the question; To what extent do pets impact stress levels
in healthy individuals?

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Allen et al. (1999)5
supports that pets positively and significantly impact one’s stress level
throughout the use of blood pressure and heart rate measurements. Additionally, in 2010, Müllersdorf et al.6 carried
out a study from which the results negatively and significantly support that
pet impact one’s stress levels. Though both studies contradict each other, they
together support the impact of pets on stress levels of healthy individuals.

 

On
the other hand, Wright et al. (2007)7
found no differences in blood pressure or risk of hypertension between pet
owners and non-pet owners thus raising an enigma on the impact of pets on
stress levels of healthy individuals.

 

Due to the endless debating of the utilization
of pets towards stress levels reduction, this essay will therefore, with a
balanced view, discuss the research question by comparing and analysing
studies. This research question is worthy of investigation as every year, the
pet population increases as do mental health and well-being positive and
negative cases.

 

Studies on the positive biological impact of pets in reducing
stress

 

It has been for years debated
whether pets impact human beings’ stress levels or not. Whether supporting or neglecting
their presence as a treatment, pets have in most cases significantly reduced
stress levels in individuals.

 

In 1999, Allen et al. carried
out a study with aim to examine the owning of pets and their impact as social
help. The investigators more specifically researched if owning a pet could
possibly diminish stress by utilizing a sample of 48 participants from New York
City stockbrokers (with an equivalent number of men and women) who experienced
psychological stress. All participants were living alone and were treated with
drugs against hypertension. For the experiment to be set, every one of the
participants needed to willingly acquire a pet. Half of the participants were
randomly allocated with a cat or a dog while the other half was kept as a
control. Blood pressure as well as heart rate were measured before the drug
therapy started and half a year later8.

 

The researchers found that
participants who claimed a pet over the investigation remained significantly
more stable than the control group. It was therefore concluded by the
scientists that the stress symptoms such as blood pressure and heart rate decreases
when owning a loving pet9.

 

A limitation that Allen et
al.’ s study presented is that their study has a very restricted generalization
as the participants were particular to one employment and to a constrained
interpersonal organization. Therefore, the assumption can be made that pets
create a soothing environment, yet this cannot be completely upheld as the
sample population used has a small window for generalization (N=48).
Nevertheless, the experimental validity is high due to the natural environment
in which the experiment was led thus allowing a higher validity of results. As
per this study, pets do positively and to a high extent impact stress levels in
individuals which strengthens the utilization of this method.

 

Furthermore, Allen et al.,
1991; adult women, Allen et al., 2001; adults with hypertension, and Allen et
al., 2002; adults and married couple carried out experiments with aim to test
the effect of pets during a stressor or stress task. All three studies resulted
with a lower blood pressure and heart rate signifying lower stress levels10.
The strengthening replication of the study across the years strongly supports
that pets do have a positive and significant impact on stress levels of human
beings. The numerous redoing of the study could be due to sample reasons, in
aim to improve the number of participants each time to improve the validity and
reliability.

 

 

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of
therapy which involves animals as a type of treatment and has for aim to
improve one’s social, emotional, or
cognitive functioning. Led by Barker and Dawson in 1998, AAT was used to reduce anxiety
levels of hospitalized psychiatric patients. The crossover study consisted of
230 patients psychiatrically hospitalized which was then divided into two
groups. One group would undergo a single Animal-Assisted Therapy session and
the other one a single regularly scheduled therapeutic recreation session. The
patients were asked to complete a state scale of the State -Trait Anxiety
Inventory (a self-report measure of anxiety) before and after their
participation. Results showed a significant reduction in anxiety in the Animal-Assisted
Therapy group for patients with psychotic disorders, moods disorders and other
disorders as well as in the therapeutic recreation group for patients with mood
disorders. The experimenters concluded that Animal-Assisted Therapy was linked
with reduced state of anxiety levels for hospitalised patients with a large
range of psychiatric diagnoses and therapeutic recreation sessions with reduced
levels for patients with only mood disorders (NCBI, 1998).

 

The study can further be
generalized to a larger population due to its original large sample size
(N=230). Moreover, as the study is longitudinal; therefore, in a controlled
environment, there is a low ecological validity and a high experimental
validity consequently reinforcing the reliability of the results and supporting
that pets impact one’s stress level to a great extent. 

 

In support, Cole
et al. (2007) used AAT to investigate whether a 12-minute
hospital visit with a therapy dog would improve certain conditions of 76 adult
patients with advance heart failure. Through the randomized repeated-measures experimental design, the longitudinal study divided the patients into
three groups, group 1 received a 12-minute visit from a volunteer with a
therapy dog, group 2; a 12-minute visit from a volunteer and group 3; usual
care (control group). The data was measure at baseline, 8 minutes after
baseline as well as 16 minutes after baseline and showed a significant decrease
in systolic pulmonary artery pressure and pulmonary capillary wedge pressure as
well as an important decrease in state anxiety in group 1 compared to the other
groups (KM et al., 2007). Though the study was carried through a strong design
increasing the reliability of the results, it can only be generalized to
patients with advance heart failure and not a more general population.

 

In 2011, it was concluded by
Beetz et al., that there is a strong connection between lower cortisol level and
the physical contact with a dog. The experiment was composed of 31 children
aged 7 to 12 with insecure attachments. The children were placed in different
social supports composed of either a dog, an adult or a toy dog during a social
stressor. As results from the experiment, lower cortisol levels were found in
the group of children who was placed with a dog. A year before, in 2010, Viau
et al. found results akin to Beetz et al. (2011). The experimenters measured
the cortisol levels of 42 children with autistic-spectrum disorder before and
after the placement of a service dog among their families as well as after its
removal for a short period of time. As results, there was no change in the
average diurnal cortisol levels however the cortisol awakening response decreased
significantly from 58% to 10% in the morning with the presence of the dog and
increased back to 48% when the dog was removed. (Frontiers in Psychology, 2012).

 

A last study which found
positive and significant results was led by Barker et al. in 2005). The 35
adult psychiatric patients were divided into two groups; group 1 – 15min
reading and group 2 – 15min with animal. Results showed a reduction in stress,
lower salivary and serum cortisol level in the dog condition. This study
therefore supports that pets impact stress levels of individuals to a high
extent11.

 

Overall, there are numerous
studies which support the owning of a pet due to its positive and significant
ways of helping in one’s stress levels diminishing. Regardless, until today,
countless studies have supported that pets influence humans’ stress levels to a
high extent whether it is positive or negative.

 

Studies
on the ineffectual impact of pets in reducing stress

 

Albeit that many studies find
that pets can positively influence stress levels of individuals to a high
extent, oppositely many studies support that pets influence stress levels of
individuals to a low extent and show no significant change in the reduction of
stress levels.

 

As for example, a study carried out by Wright, Kritz-Silverstein,
Morton, Wingard and Barrett-Connor (2007) found no differences in blood
pressure or risk of hypertension of pet and non-pet owners (Sage Journal, 201112).
The study was conducted on community-dwelling individuals from which 498 were
men and 681 were women, all aged 50 to 95 years old (NCBI, 200713).
A mailed questionnaire with a clinic visit was to be done by the individuals in
which their blood pressure was assessed. As results, pet owners had a lower
systolic blood pressure than non-pet owners, however when analysed, potential
confounding variables as such as age were included and therefore no differences
between the pet owners and the non-pet owners was concluded thus supporting
that pets influence stress levels of individuals to a low extent (The
psychology of the Human-Animal Bond, 201114).
 

 

 Furthermore, Hansen et al.
(1999), led an experiment to compare blood pressure, fingertip temperature and
heart rate of about fifteen 6 years old children undergoing a standard physical
examination. The sample was divided in two groups from which one group was in
company of a friendly dog during the examination and the other group without a
dog. Results showed that there was a lower behavioural distress in the group
with the dog but no significant differences in blood pressure, fingertip
temperature and heart rate15.
Although the experiment was led in a controlled environment leading to high
experimental validity and more valid results, questions in reliability raises
due to the low sample size which was used. Alike, Straatman et al. (1997)
carried out a study to investigate whether the presence (group 1) or absence
(group 2/control) of an unfamiliar dog during a stressful speech task would
impact stress factors. The outcome of the study showed no significant
difference in anxiety, heart rate or blood pressure between the two groups16.
As per their results, both studies support that pets impact individual’s stress
levels to a low extent.

 

Altogether, many studies support that pet have no impact on one’s stress
levels and therefore pets impact individual’s stress levels to a low extent.
However due to the neutral results of those studies, the replicating of each of
them would be advantageous as to ensure the reliability of those results.

 

Studies on the positive cognitive and social impact of
pets in reducing stress

 

1 Hannibal, J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, p.84.

2 Mayo Clinic. (2016). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and
behavior. online
Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

3 Hannibal, J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, p.89.

4 Hannibal, J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, p.88.

 

5 Hannibal, J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, p.89.

6 Müllersdorf, M. (2010). Aspects of health, physical/leisure
activities, work and socio-demographics associated with pet ownership in
Sweden. – PubMed – NCBI. online Pubmed. Available at:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19717574 Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

7 Herzog, H. (2011). The Impact of Pets on Human Health
and Psychological Well-Being Current
Directions in Psychological Science – Harold Herzog, 2011. online Sage
Journal. Available at:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721411415220 Accessed 6 Jan.
2018.

 

8 Hannibal, J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, p.89.

9 Hannibal,
J. (2012). Psychology for the IB Diploma. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, p.89.

10 Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H.
and Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of
Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, online 3, p.3. Available
at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234/full
Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

 

11 Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H.
and Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of
Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, online 3, p.1. Available at:
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234/full Accessed 6
Jan. 2018.

12 Herzog,
H. (2011). The Impact of Pets on Human Health and Psychological Well-Being Current Directions in Psychological
Science – Harold Herzog, 2011. online Sage Journal. Available at:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721411415220 Accessed 6 Jan.
2018.

13 NCBI.
(2007). Pet
ownership and blood pressure in old age.
online Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17700250 Accessed 6
Jan. 2018.

14 Blazina, C., Boyraz, G. and Shen-Miller, D. (2011). The Psychology of the
Human-Animal Bond. New York: Springer, p.169.

15 Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K.,
Julius, H. and Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects
of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. online PMC. Available
at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/ Accessed 6 Jan.
2018.

 

16 Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H.
and Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects
of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. online PMC. Available
at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/ Accessed 6 Jan.
2018.

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