Presence of a dog on executive functioning and stress in children with emotional disorders
Therapy dogs are increasingly used in interventions for youth with emotional disorders. Theories of human-animal interactions suggest that dogs offer social support, which favorably influences psychological functioning and reduces physiological stress. Such theories are based largely on anecdotal reports due to a lack of empirical research. This study expanded upon the literature by comparing the effects of the presence of a dog versus a toy dog on executive functioning (EF) and physiological indicators of stress (heart rate and blood pressure) in 38 youth with emotional disorders (ages 7–15). Compared to the toy-dog condition, participants in the real-dog condition performed significantly better on executive tasks that required set shifting and inhibition, and completed set-shifting and sustained attention tasks more quickly. Analyses of age-related effects on EF showed that adolescents earned significantly higher scores than children on set-shifting and sustained attention tasks. Adolescents also completed attention and inhibition tasks more quickly than children. Expected age-related differences in working memory or inhibitory control were not found. Contrary to previous research, the presence of a dog did not have a significant effect on physiological stress. However, it is likely that low participation rates in physiological tests impacted results. The data suggest that the presence of a dog helps youth with emotional disorders engage in EF processes, an important finding given that EF plays an integral role in academic and social functioning.
Behavioral psychology|Educational psychology
Becker, Joanna Leigh, "Presence of a dog on executive functioning and stress in children with emotional disorders" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3629239.