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Clinical depression moderates effects of animal-assisted stress prevention program on college students’ emotion

Patricia Pendry (Department of Human Development, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)
Jaymie L. Vandagriff (Department of Human Development, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)
Alexa Marie Carr (Department of Human Development, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 31 May 2019

Issue publication date: 18 June 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine whether clinical levels of depression moderated university students’ momentary emotional states (e.g. feeling content, anxious, irritable and depressed) in response to conditions commonly experienced during universal, college-based Animal Visitation Programs (AVPs).

Design/methodology/approach

During a real-life efficacy trial, students (N = 192) were randomly assigned to three common AVP conditions: a hands-on condition in which participants could freely pet cats and dogs in small groups, an observation condition in which participants observed students in the hands-on condition while awaiting one’s turn and a control condition in which participants viewed images of the same animals while refraining from socializing with peers. Using a checklist, students reported their momentary emotional states (e.g. feeling content, anxious, irritable and depressed) before and after the 10-min intervention.

Findings

Multivariate regression analyses showed that clinically depressed students reported significantly higher levels of momentary negative emotion including irritability, depression and anxiety after waiting in line compared to non-depressed students, suggesting that clinical depression may moderate potential stress-relieving effects of universal college-based AVPs depending on implementation practices.

Originality/value

This is the first study to examine the causal impact of a common yet unstudied feature of college-based AVPs aimed at reducing general college student stress. Results support the utility of targeted approaches for students presenting clinical levels of depression.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was supported through the Research Initiative in Human Sciences Grant No. 21441312, sponsored by Academic Programs, Washington State University’s Office of Research and Extension. The authors would like to acknowledge the Washington State University Office of the Dean of Students and their volunteers for initiating and coordinating the Pet Your Stress Away program. Additionally, the authors would like to acknowledge the Whitman County Humane Society and their volunteers for providing the dogs and cats who participated in Pet Your Stress Away. The authors also thank all the Pet Your Stress Away Study volunteers, fellow research assistants and participants, without whom this study would not have been possible.

Citation

Pendry, P., Vandagriff, J.L. and Carr, A.M. (2019), "Clinical depression moderates effects of animal-assisted stress prevention program on college students’ emotion", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 94-101. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMH-10-2018-0069

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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