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Can Dogs increase children's attention and concentration performance? A randomised controlled trial.

Authors:
  • I.E.A.P./I.E.T., Inst. for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology
Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin
2014, Vol. 2, No. 2, 21-39
Can dogs increase children's attention and concentration
performance? A randomised controlled trial.
Karin Hediger1,2,3 & Dennis C. Turner3,4
Many practitioners report that the presence of an animal, or interaction with an animal,
increases the attention and concentration of children, elderly persons or patients. Previous
studies support this impression via indirect variables, but direct effects on children's attention
performance have not yet been measured. We therefore designed a study that used
neuropsychological concentration tasks to test the effect of the presence of dogs, and contact
with dogs, on children's performance. In a randomised, controlled crossover trial, 24 children
between 10-14 years completed a memory task and three neuropsychological attention tests.
We also used passive infrared hemoencephalography (PIR HEG) to assess a biological
correlate of attention. The children interacted with either a trained therapy dog or the robotic
dog AIBO for 15 minutes before they completed the tests. We found that the learning effect in
the memory test, as well as in the neuropsychological attention test "Cancellation Screen", was
significantly enhanced (p = 0.021) when children were in the presence of, or interacted with
the dog. No such effect was found in the two attention tests, "Continuous Performance Test"
and "Divided Attention Bimodal". In the presence of the robotic dog, attention processes
measured in frontal brain activity, via PIR HEG, were significantly reduced over time during
the test "Divided Attention Bimodal" (p < .001). These processes did not decrease in the
presence of the real dog. We found no such difference during the two other attention tests.
Moreover, the PIR HEG signal was significantly higher in general in all three attention tests in
the presence of the dog. We conclude that interacting with a dog, or the presence of a dog, may
increase children's attention and concentration performance.
Key words: attention, concentration, children, dog, human-animal interaction
Direct correspondence to: Dr. Karin Hediger, Human and Animal Health Unit, Department of
Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57,
4002 Basel, Switzerland.
Email: karin.hediger@unibas.ch
Aknowledgements: This research was funded by IEMT Switzerland (Project: psychobiological
mechanisms of human-animal interactions). Kali Tal contributed editorial suggestions. We
thank Sony Inc. for providing the second author with the AIBO used in this study.
1: Human and Animal Health Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss
Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, 4002 Basel, Switzerland
2: University of Basel, Petersplatz 1, 4001 Basel, Switzerland
3: IEMT Switzerland, Institute for interdisciplinary research on the human-animal relationship,
c/o Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, 4002 Basel, Switzerland
4: Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology (I.E.A.P.), Seestrasse 254, 8810
Horgen, Switzerland
Introduction
Many teachers believe that introducing
an animal into the classroom may improve
their students' attention to the environment,
and such claims are common in the
literature (Beetz, 2012; Levinson, 1997;
Prothmann, 2008). More and more teachers
favour taking their dogs or other pets to
school and integrating them into their
lessons. Recent surveys from Germany
highlight this increase in "school dogs",
and there is a similar trend across the
German-speaking part of Europe (Agsten,
2009; Mars, 2012; Volk, 2007). Parents,
school principals, and politicians
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
sometimes worry that a dog in a classroom
will distract students, but teachers argue
that contact with animals, and dogs in
particular, stimulates children's attention
and concentration at school.
A range of studies have sought to
determine if human-animal interactions
have positive or negative effects on human
behaviour, and if they support learning,
attention or concentration. Kotrschal and
Ortbauer (2003) found that overt activity,
withdrawal and aggressive interactions
decreased among children when there was
a dog in the classroom. The presence of a
dog also enhanced group activities and
improved social interaction. Children paid
more attention to the teacher when the dog
was present. The authors concluded, "the
presence of a dog in a classroom could
positively stimulate social cohesion in
children and provide a relatively cheap and
easy means of improving teaching
conditions” (Kotrschal & Ortbauer, 2003,
p. 147). In another study, eight children
with Down's syndrome were more
responsive to adults in the presence of a
live dog than of a toy dog, and also
directed more attention to the real dog
(Limond, Bradshaw, & Cormack, 1997).
A series of studies by Gee and
colleagues found that children's
performance improved for different tasks
when a dog was present; they took this as
an indicator of improved concentration
(Gee, Christ, & Carr, 2010a; Gee, Church,
& Altobelli, 2010b; Gee, Harris, &
Johnson, 2007; Gee, Sherlock, Bennett, &
Harris, 2009). In a motor skill task, both
developmentally delayed and normally
developing children performed tasks more
quickly, and maintained their accuracy,
when a dog accompanied them (Gee et al.,
2007). Pre-schoolers with and without
language impairments adhered better to
instructions for an imitation task when a
dog was present than they did in the
presence of a human or a toy dog (Gee et
al., 2009). Children needed fewer prompts
in a memory task when a dog was present,
and more prompts when another human
was present (Gee et al., 2010a). And
preschool children made fewer errors, like
irrelevant choices, in a match-to-sample
task when a dog was present than when a
human or a toy dog was present (Gee et al.,
2010b). Finally, Prothmann (2008) found
that the self-rating of children in a
psychiatric facility improved significant
after a half-hour interaction with a dog;
they thought themselves more attentive,
alert, and better adjusted.
We know of only one study so far that
has used direct measures to test if
interacting with dogs can increase human
attention and concentration, and it found
no effect. However, it was limited in
design and the results cannot be
generalized (Prothmann, 2008).
The literature describes several
biological and psychological mechanisms
that suggest how the presence of, and
contact with a dog, may enhance attention
and concentration. We briefly mention
here only a few, and reserve more detailed
description of possible mechanisms for our
discussion. First, the well-documented
stress-reducing effect that dogs have on
humans has been measured using
cardiovascular parameters (Levine et al.,
2013), cortisol levels (Beetz et al., 2011;
Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003), and
perceived fear and anxiety (Barker,
Pandurangi, & Best, 2003; Shiloh, Sorek,
& Terkel, 2003). Reduced stress may
improve memory, attention, and
concentration performance, since stress is
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
known to hinder these processes (Howland
& Wang, 2008; Kim, Song, & Kosten,
2006). Second, attention and concentration
deficits correlate with alterations in
domapinergic systems, as well as deficits
in prefrontal cortex functions (Biederman,
2005; Genro, Kieling, Rohde, & Hutz,
2010). This potential mechanism is
indicated by a preliminary finding that
dopamine in humans significantly
increased after they interacted with a dog
(Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003). Third, the
presence of an animal may stimulate
intrinsic motivation to learn and increase
curiosity and attention (Beetz, 2012).
Perceptions of other people and one's
surroundings may also be more positive in
the presence of a dog (Wells & Perrine,
2001), and this may facilitate learning. In
light of the variety of possible mechanisms
by which dogs may reduce stress, we
decided to measure attention and
concentration performance by using
psychological measures and a
corresponding biological parameter that
reflects prefrontal activity in our study
design. In studies with children and adults
who suffer from attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder it was found that
reduced activation in the prefrontal cortex
reflects attention process deficits (Cubillo,
Halari, Smith, Taylor, & Rubia, 2012;
Dickstein, Bannon, Castellanos, &
Milham, 2006). Therefore, measuring a
correlate of prefrontal brain activity may
offer new insights into the possible
attention-enhancing effects of a dog.
Our goal was to examine the effects
that the presence of, and contact with a
dog, had on children's performance of a
memory task and neuropsychological con-
centration tasks, and to visualize the effects
with passive infrared hemoencephalo-
graphy. We thus designed a randomised,
controlled trial with a non-clinical sample,
and systematically used direct measures of
attention and concentration performance.
Methods
Participants
We recruited 24 children, between 10-
14 years old (M = 11.34, SD ± 0.95), from
public schools in Wollerau and
Samstagern, Switzerland: 13 were boys
and 11 were girls. All children were Swiss
nationals. We chose a non-clinical sample,
and included only children who had not
been diagnosed with attention deficits. We
also excluded children with learning
deficits, health problems, children who
were on medication, children who had
allergic reactions to dogs or fear of dogs,
or who had ever owned a dog, and children
who were not willing to take part
spontaneously. We excluded children with
health problems and medication to reduce
possible effects on the biological parameter
measured via PIR HEG, as well as effects
on memory and attention performance.
Excluding children who owned a dog at
home controlled for differences between
children who have constant contact with
dogs and those who don't. We obtained
written informed consent from parents and
from children 14 and up. The ethics
committee of northern and central
Switzerland approved this study.
Measures
Memory
Memory capacity was assessed via the
subtest "Digit Span", from the intelligence
test HAWIK-IV (WISC; Petermann &
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
Petermann, 2007). In this subtest, children
listen to a sequence of numbers and repeat
them (forward in the first part of the task,
and backwards in the second part). The test
requires recording and recalling
information, as well as processes of
attention and working memory. The test
has been broadly used and has satisfactory
internal consistency and validity.
Attention and concentration
We used a standardized neuropsycho-
logical test to assess attention and
concentration performance. Candit
(http://www.candit.com) developed the
computer-based test, in cooperation with
the Institute of Neuropsychology at the
University of Zurich, Switzerland. We
used three subtests. In the first,
("Cancellation Screen"), subjects had to
cancel certain stimuli (distinguishing
apricots and pears from other fruit) for
eight minutes. This subtest measured
unbroken concentration while completing a
monotonous task. We computed the mean
of right answers, omissions, and errors to
assess attention performance. In the second
subtest ("Continuous Performance Test"),
subjects monitored sequences of visual
pictures at a predetermined tempo for five
minutes. The task was to react only to a
certain combination of pictures that
appears periodically. This test measured
the extent of impulse or behaviour control,
as well as attention. As indicators of
performance, we calculated the number of
right answers and answers that were given
too soon or supplemented. The third
subtest ("Divided Attention Bimodal")
measured shared attention. Subjects
reacted to visual and auditory stimuli
simultaneously for 3.5 minutes. As
indicators of performance, we calculated
numbers of right answers (hits), false
positive and negative alarms, and reaction
time. The indicators of performance in the
three subtests show satisfactory internal
consistency and validity (Candit, 2001).
Stimuli were presented on a 17'' screen,
about 80 centimetres in front of the face of
the child sitting in a chair. Either the
computer mouse or two buttons
(highlighted red and green) could be used
to provide answers.
Correlate of frontal brain activity
We used passive infrared
hemoencephalography (PIR HEG) to
assess a correlate of frontal brain activity.
Activity in the prefrontal cortex is a neural
correlate of executive functions like
attention processes (Cubillo et al., 2012;
Dickstein et al., 2006). To measure
attention and concentration processes,
brain activity in this brain region must be
captured. PIR HEG is a technique that
indirectly measures brain activity via
thermal emission from the forehead
(Carmen, 2004). The hypothesis
underlying the technique is that changes in
thermal emission reflect changes in
neuronal activity: the higher the emitted
heat, the higher the activation of the brain
cells. The method was designed to train
people to control cerebrovascular activity
via thermal biofeedback and was intended
to increase their prefrontal cortical brain
activity. The PIR HEG signal reflects a
combination of thermal activity generated
by brain cell activity, vascular supply, and
vascular return. The method is free from
eye roll and surface electromyogram
artefacts. Emitted heat is measured via
three infrared sensors in a frontlet that is
fixed on the forehead. The system captures
infrared radiation within the 7-14 micron
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
band, has a thermal resolution of .01
degrees Fahrenheit, and a data sampling
rate of 60 times per second (Carmen,
2004).
Mood
Children's mood was assessed by self-
report via a "visual analogue scale" (VAS).
We assessed the dimensions 'calmness,'
'attention,' 'alertness,' 'strength,' 'slowness,'
'satisfaction,' and 'interest' using semantic
differentials as in Turner and colleagues
(2003). Children were asked to put a cross
on a line between two antonyms to
represent their mood.
Additional questionnaire
The children filled out an additional 9-
item questionnaire designed for this study
to assess subjectively perceived support,
and their preference for one of the two
conditions. The questionnaire also controls
for animal contact at home and the child's
attitude towards dogs. Items were
answered with 'exactly true', 'true', 'a bit
true', 'not true', or 'not at all true'. The
questionnaire yielded scores of 0-5, with
higher agreement on lower scores.
Design and procedures
The study was designed as a
randomised, controlled crossover trial. All
children took part in two experimental
sessions in two consecutive weeks. The
children were randomly assigned to either
the experimental or the control condition
for the first session, and reassigned to the
reverse condition for the consecutive
session. Sessions were held between 13:00
and 18:00. Each child completed both
sessions at the same time of day to control
for daytime effects. The children were
blinded to the aim of the study. We used
the following cover story to explain the
process to the children: A person had to
supervise the experimenter. This person
needed to bring her dog to the session
because it was afraid of staying alone at
home. We asked the children if they
wanted to play with the dog while they
waited for the tests to start.
Day 1
In the first session, the children filled
out the first of three VASs. Then they
waited for 15 minutes, during which time
they could interact either with the dog or
AIBO, depending on the condition to
which they were assigned. Next, the PIR
HEG was placed on the children's
foreheads and they filled out the second
VAS for the three-minute waiting phase in
which the sensors of the PIR HEG were
evened out. Then the children completed
the memory task and the three
neuropsychological attention tests.
Afterwards, the PIR HEG was
removed and the children filled out the
third VAS. The whole session lasted about
an hour.
Day 2
In the second session, a week later, the
children went through the same procedure
under the other condition. They then filled
out the additional questionnaire that
measured the experienced support. All
children received a final debriefing. Room
temperature was the same during all
sessions to minimize artefacts in the PIR
HEG recording. We limited the children's
interactions with the dog to quiet activities.
Excessive physical activity, like running,
was forbidden because it leads to enhanced
blood flow.
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
Conditions
Dog condition
In the dog condition, the children were
free to interact with the dog as they wished
within a range of quiet activities. They
stroked the dog, brushed its hair, cuddled
up or carried out small tasks like giving it
commands (e.g., sit, lay down, roll over
etc.). The dog was a female trained black
Labrador Retriever and an experienced
therapy dog. The dog was present during
the whole session, and slept/rested beside
the children's chairs while they completed
the tasks. The dog's owner was present at
all times for safety reasons, and so that the
dog remained comfortable. The owner
avoided interaction with the children
unless it was necessary. The dog was free
to decline to interact with the children at
any time and did not attend more than two
sessions in a row. The dog could rest or
run free outside between the sessions. The
dog's owner was responsible at all times
for both the dog's and the children's
security. Ethical clearance was obtained
from the cantonal animal ethics board. The
study follows the guidelines and
declarations of the International
Association of Human-Animal-Interaction
Organisations (IAHAIO), specifically the
Prague-declaration.
Control condition
The children played with the robotic
dog AIBO (ERS-210, Sony Inc.) as a
control condition. This robotic dog
interacts with humans and displays the
emotions 'joy', 'sadness', 'anger',
'astonishment', 'fear' and 'aversion'. It asks
for stroking or playing, is programmed to
react to a pink ball and obeys commands.
The experimenter explained to the children
how to interact with AIBO, and the
children received a list of commands it
would obey. To control for the effect of the
dog owner's presence, there was an ad-
ditional person present in this condition.
Statistical analysis
We analysed the data with SPSS,
version 19.0. A priori sample size
calculation and effect-size calculation were
conducted with G*Power, version 3.1.
Analysis of PIR HEG data was executed
with EViews, version 6. As a first step, we
tested data for normal distribution with the
Kolmogorov-Smirnov test and QQ-Plots.
We tested also homogeneity of variance
using the Levene test. Non-parametric tests
were used if the outcomes were not
normally distributed. In case of violation of
sphericity, we used a Greenhouse-Geisser
correction. A p-value 0.05 was accepted
as statistically significant.
All subjects completed data collection
and were included in statistical analysis.
The data of a few children were missing in
some subtests, mainly due to technical
problems. Accordingly, results were
calculated with a lower N (as indicated in
the tables).
Results of the questionnaire were
analysed using t-tests for dependent
samples. Cohen's d was computed as effect
size (Cohen, 1988). VAS data were
analysed using a two-way ANOVA with
repeated measurements. As effect size,
η²part was calculated. Data from
neuropsychological tests were analysed
according to Senn (2002). We then
performed t-tests for independent samples
(or the corresponding non-parametric
Wilcoxon test with an approximated φ as
effect size) within the two groups, with
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
opposite order of condition. PIR HEG data
were analysed within phases during which
the attention tests were actually carried out,
for each subtest separately. First, data was
smoothed using the Hodrick-Prescott filter.
Second, beta coefficients were computed
using ordinary least square regression
estimates. Finally, we used linear mixed
effect models to estimate the impact of the
presence of the dog on thermal emission.
Time was included as categorical fixed
effect and individuals as random effect to
account for the dependency among the
repeated observations within participants.
Results
Memory
We found no general effect of the
presence or absence of the dog or AIBO
for memory performance, but a significant
learning effect (t(22) = 3.29, p = .003, d =
1.34) in the subtest "Digit Span" from the
intelligence test HAWIK. In the second
session, children performed better and
remembered 2.9 items more, independent
of the presence of the dog or AIBO. To
look more deeply into the data, a t-test for
independent samples was performed for
each of the two groups with different
condition orders (see table 1). There was
only a significant increase in performance
if the dog was present during the second
session (t(11) = 2.68, p = .021, d = 0.51).
No performance gain was found when
AIBO was present in the second session
(t(11) = -1.94, p = .078, d = 0.33).
Attention and concentration
Cancellation Screen
For the subtest "Cancellation Screen",
we found that the presence of the dog or
AIBO did not influence the mean of
correct answers or errors. However, there
was a significant overall learning effect for
the omission rate (t(20) = -3.12, p = .005, d
= 1.33). The estimated effect reveals that,
in the second session, the children omitted
0.13 fewer items than in the first session,
independent of the presence of the dog or
AIBO. We performed independent t-tests
to investigate the dog-specific influence of
the learning effect. The presence of the dog
in the second session reduced the omission
rate significantly (t(10) = -2.73, p = .021, d
= 1.13). In contrast, children who
interacted with the dog in the first session
did not have a significantly reduced
Table 1. Number of remembered items in the subtest "Digit Span."
Group
Time
M
SD
n
t-Test
Starts with dog
T1
14.17
3.54
12
p = .078
T2
15.33
3.45
12
Starts with AIBO
T1
13.92
2.54
12
p = .021
T2
15.67
4.16
12
Note: M: Mean, SD: Standard deviation, n: number of cases, AIBO: robotic dog (ERS-210, Sony Inc.)
Group
Time
M
SD
n
t-Test
Starts with dog
T1
0.25
0.21
11
p = .127
T2
0.15
0.13
11
Starts with AIBO
T1
0.27
0.18
11
p = .021
T2
0.11
0.11
11
Note: M: Mean, SD: Standard deviation, n: number of cases, AIBO: robotic dog (ERS-210, Sony Inc.)
27 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
omission rate in the second session, in the
presence of AIBO (t(10) = 1.67, p = .127,
d = 0.55).
Continuous Performance Test
We found that the presence of the dog
or AIBO did not influence either the
number of correct answers or the answers
that were given too soon or supplemented
in the subtest CPT (number of correct
answers: starting with dog (t(10) = 1.32, p
= .216, d = 0.42; starting with AIBO (t(11)
= 0.00, p = 1.000, d = 0.00 / answers given
too soon: starting with dog (Z = 0.00, p =
1.000, φ = 0.00; starting with AIBO (Z =
0.00, p = 1.000, φ = 0.00) / answers given
supplemented: starting with dog (t(10) =
0.00, p = 1.000, d = 0.00; starting with
AIBO (t(11) = -0.92, p = .379, d = 0.30)).
There was no learning effect from session
one to two (t(21) = -1.05, p = .307, d =
0.44).
Divided Attention Bimodal
The same pattern of results was found
for the "Divided Attention Bimodal" in
terms of numbers of correct answers, false
positive and false negative alarms (Table
3). However, we found the presence of the
dog or AIBO had a different influence on
reaction time: The presence of AIBO in the
second session significantly enhanced
reaction time (t(10) = 2.23, p = .050, d =
0.28). Children that worked in the presence
of the dog in the second session showed no
such significant increase (t(11)= -1.33, p =
.211, d = 0.20).
Correlate of frontal brain activity
Results of the passive infrared
hemoencephalography are presented
separately for each subtest.
Table 3. Reaction time in the test "Divided Attention Bimodal."
Group
Time
M
SD
n
t-Test
Starts with dog
T1
0.54
0.06
11
p = .050
T2
0.52
0.05
11
Starts with AIBO
T1
0.51
0.05
12
p = .211
T2
0.50
0.06
12
Note: M: Mean, SD: Standard deviation, n: number of cases, AIBO: robotic dog (ERS-210, Sony Inc.)
Figure 1. PIR HEG during the test "Cancellation Screen."
34
34.05
34.1
34.15
34.2
34.25
34.3
Emitted heat (°C)
Time
Dog
Dog smoothed
AIBO
AIBO smoothe
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
Cancellation Screen
Measured emitted heat increased
significantly during the course of this first
subtest of the neuropsychological attention
test in the presence of the dog and in the
presence of AIBO as the computed beta
coefficients show (dog condition: β =
0.002, p < .001; AIBO condition: β =
0.002, p < .001) (see figure 1). Results of
the linear mixed effect models revealed a
significant mean difference in temperature
of 0.04 °C (95% CI 0.03 - 0.05, p < 0.001).
When the dog was present, heat output was
higher than when AIBO was present.
Continuous Performance Test
Again, heat emission increased in the
presence of the dog and in the presence of
AIBO during the "Continuous Performance
Test" (dog condition: β = 0.002, p < .001;
AIBO condition: β = 0.000, p < .001) as
shown by the averaged curve in figure 2.
Results of the linear mixed effect
models revealed also a significant mean
difference in temperature of 0.08 °C
(95%CI 0.08 - 0.09, p < 0.001) with a
higher heat output in the presence of the
dog.
Figure 2. PIR HEG during the test "Continuous Performance Test."
34.1
34.15
34.2
34.25
34.3
34.35
34.4
Emitted heat (°C)
Time
Dog
Dog smoothed
AIBO
AIBO smoothed
Figure 3. PIR HEG during the test "Divided Attention Bimodal."
34.1
34.15
34.2
34.25
34.3
34.35
Emitted heat (°C)
Time
Dog
Dog smoothed
AIBO
AIBO smoothed
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DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
Divided Attention Bimodal
Beta coefficients revealed a
significantly reduced heat emission over
time in the presence of AIBO = -0.002,
p < .001). In contrast, emission stayed
constant in the presence of the dog = -
0.000, p = .132) (Figure 3). Again, results
of the linear mixed effect models revealed
a significant mean difference in
temperature of 0.11 °C (95% CI 0.10 -
0.12, p < .001). When the dog was present,
heat output was higher than when AIBO
was present.
Mood
In the analysis of moods, we found no
significant variance of the VAS in terms of
subjective experience of 'calmness', level
of 'attention' or 'strength'. The dimension of
perceived 'alertness' did change significant
over time (F(2, 44) = 7.21, p = .002, η² =
0.25). Alertness was greater after both
interaction phases than at the beginning or
the end of each session. For 'satisfaction'
there was also a significant effect over time
(F(2, 44) = 3.99, p = .026, η² = 0.15) as
well as for 'interest' (F(1.55, 34.04) = 5.39,
p = .015, η² = 0.20). Children felt more
satisfied after the interaction phase, and at
the end of each session. They reported an
increase in interest after the interaction
phases and a decrease at the end of each
session, independent of the presence of the
dog or AIBO.
The dimension 'slowness' revealed a
significant interaction effect (F(2, 44) =
6.89, p = .002, η² = 0.24). To specify this
effect, we performed t-tests for dependent
samples for each time point during the
sessions. Children felt significantly less
'slow' after they interacted with the dog
than after they interacted with AIBO (t(23)
= 2.79, p = .011, d = 0.85).
Additional Questionnaire
The children experienced significantly
greater subjective support from the dog
than from AIBO while completing their
tasks (t(23) = -2.15, p = .043, d = 0.40). Of
the children, 66.6% stated that they
perceived substantial support from the dog.
Only 37.5% of the children experienced
the same amount of support from AIBO
(see table 4).
The company of the dog would have
been preferred by 91.7% of the children on
both days. In contrast, only 8.3% of the
children would have preferred AIBO for
both days. None of the children owned a
dog, since this was an exclusion criterion.
However, 95.8% of the children stated that
they like dogs, 4.2% had a neutral attitude
and none expressed a dislike for dogs.
Exactly half the children owned a
companion animal (rabbits, guinea-pigs,
mice and/or fish). Gender had no influence
on answers to the questionnaire.
Table 4. Children's answers to the questions "the dog supported me" and "AIBO supported me."
Answer
Subjective felt support
Dog
AIBO
Exactly true
16.7%
16.7%
True
50.0%
20.8%
A bit true
29.2%
54.2%
Not true
4.2%
8.3%
Not at all true
-
-
Total
100%
100%
30 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
Discussion
We analyzed the effects the presence
of, and contact with a dog, had on
children's performance of a memory task
and of three neuropsychological
concentration tasks, and visualized these
effects with passive infrared
hemoencephalography.
In the memory task, we found
performance increased significantly when
the dog was present during the second
session. No such performance gain was
found when AIBO was present in the
second session. The result was the same
for the first concentration task,
"Cancellation Screen". The presence of the
dog in the second session reduced the
omission rate significantly. Children who
interacted with the dog in the first session
did not have a significantly reduced
omission rate in the second session when
AIBO was present. In the second task, the
"Continuous Performance Test", the
presence of the dog did not change the
quality of performance. In the third task,
the "Divided Attention Bimodal", the
presence of the dog did not affect the
number of correct answers, false positive,
or false negative alarms. But the presence
of AIBO in the second session
significantly enhanced reaction time. In the
second session, children who worked in the
presence of the dog showed no such
significant increase.
Furthermore, with PIR HEG, we
found a significant gain in heat emission
(which indicates higher brain activity in
the frontal lobe) in the two first subtests of
the neuropsychological attention test in the
presence of the dog and in the presence of
AIBO. During the last subtest, when AIBO
was present, we found heat emission was
significantly reduced over time. In
contrast, emission stayed constant when
the dog was present. Emitted heat was
constantly higher in all three
neuropsychological subtests in the
presence of the dog than in the presence of
the AIBO.
When we measured mood, we found
no significant variance of the VAS in terms
of subjective experience of 'calmness',
level of 'attention' or 'strength'. The
dimension of perceived 'alertness',
'satisfaction' and 'interest' did change
significantly over time, independent of the
presence or absence of the dog or AIBO.
However, children felt significantly less
'slow' after they interacted with the dog
than after they interacted with AIBO.
The questionnaire revealed that
children completing their tasks
experienced significantly greater subjective
support from the dog than from AIBO.
Furthermore, 91.7% of the children would
have preferred the company of the dog on
both days.
Interpretation of the results
The learning effect in a memory test
and in one of three neuropsychological
attention tests was enhanced after children
interacted with a dog or were in the
presence of a dog. We found that attention
performance, measured by frontal brain
activity via PIR HEG, did not decrease
over time in the presence of a real dog, but
did decrease in the presence of the robotic
dog, AIBO. Moreover, the PIR HEG signal
was constantly higher in the presence of
the dog.
These findings have two broad
implications. First, therapy dogs are not a
distractor. Performance did not decrease
31 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
when the dog lay at the children's feet
while they completed the tests, even
though the dog sometimes moved a little,
or snored loudly. Other studies have also
found that quality of performance across a
broad variety of tasks did not decrease in
the presence of a dog (Allen, 2003; Allen,
Blascovich, Tomaka, & Kelsey, 1991; Gee
et al., 2010a; Gee et al., 2010b; Gee et al.,
2007; Gee et al., 2009; Prothmann, 2008).
Second, interacting with a dog, and the
presence of a dog, can increase children's
attention and concentration performance
on tests, as well as physiologically. These
results are consistent with previous
research. We mentioned in the introduction
studies that addressed the indirect
attention-enhancing effects of companion
dogs (Gee et al., 2010a; Gee et al., 2010b;
Gee et al., 2007; Gee et al., 2009;
Kotrschal & Ortbauer, 2003; Limond et al.,
1997).
These findings have implications for
school dog projects. Together with
previous findings, they show that
integrating a dog into lessons can enhance
children's attention and concentration. The
children may then be better able to
concentrate on learning, instead of
focusing on paying attention. These data
suggest that a dog in a classroom will not
distract students.
We tested healthy children without
known learning problems, so it can be
argued that animal-assisted interventions
with school dogs may be helpful for a
majority of children, and not only for
children with special needs. It may not be
necessary to own a dog, or to already have
a relationship to a dog, to profit from a
dog's presence in the classroom. School-
aged children who do not have a dog at
home can benefit from the attention-
enhancing effect of interacting with a dog
at school.
It is not clear why we found an
increased learning effect only in the
memory task, and the first of the three
neuropsychological attention tests.
Performing well on the tasks in the study
required using different kinds of attention
processes, which increased in complexity.
Dogs may influence different kinds of
attention processes in different ways, so
the effect may be seen only in select
attention processes. We have, as yet, no
data to support this hypothesis, and suggest
it be tested in future studies. The presence
of a dog may also have a time-limited
effect. The dog may affect attention and
concentration processes only when it is
still a novelty, or when children do not face
the challenge of concentrating beyond 15
minutes of exhausting tasks.
The results of the PIR HEG, however,
suggest that the attention-enhancing effect
endures over time. Under both conditions,
the frontal brain activity of the children
increased at first. But in the presence of
AIBO, their frontal brain activity declined
in the last and most challenging task. In
contrast, in the presence of the dog the
children's frontal activity remained stable.
This indicates that the dog has a continued
effect on attention and concentration
processes for at least up to 50 minutes after
the interaction phase, and also has an effect
on more complex processes. Regardless of
the development of the frontal brain
activity during the attention tests, the
amount of emitted heat was constantly
higher in the presence of the dog. This
indicates that interacting with, and the
presence of a dog influences both the
intensity and the changes of attention
processes over time.
32 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
The children had increased reaction
time when AIBO was present in the second
session, and this needs further
investigation. The ability to make a quick
answer can be useful, but quick answers
may also increase the likelihood of errors
(Johnson & Proctor, 2004). We believe
that the stress-reducing effect of the dog
prevented the increase of speed that would
normally have occurred in the second
session. The presence of the real dog may
have relaxed the children, allowing them to
reflect and give answers at a more
measured pace.
We found that the significant
influence of a dog was dependent of the
order of the sessions. The dog increased
learning from one session to another if it
was present during the second session. In
the presence of the dog, children profited
more from repeating the task. But the dog
had no overall effect. In the first session
children might have been more excited
because they did not know what to expect.
This might have reduced their attention
performance, resulting in the dog having
no general effect. Or the presence of the
dog during the first session may already
have enhanced children's performance
(although not to a statistically significant
degree). This might have prevented a
significant performance gain in the second
session when AIBO was present. In the
PIR HEG, however, we found attention
was enhanced, independent of the session
order. We suggest testing these
mechanisms in further studies.
On the visual analogue scale, children
were not calmer or more relaxed. On the
contrary, the children said that they felt
they could respond significantly faster after
having interacted with the dog than with
AIBO. At first glance, these findings
contradict Prothmann's (2008). In
Prothmann's study, children in a
psychiatric facility rated themselves as
significantly more attentive, alert, well
adjusted, and better tempered after
interacting with a dog for thirty minutes.
Prothmann investigated a clinical sample.
The children in our non-clinical sample
may have been less excited and tense, and
so the dog may not have influenced their
calmness. If we interpret perceived
increased speed and alertness as aspects of
the same phenomenon, then an activating
effect that corresponds with Prothmann's
findings is evident.
Possible mechanisms
Several possible mechanisms may
enhance attention. Here, we will briefly list
the mechanisms described in the literature
and suggest further investigations on all of
these hypotheses.
In our study, we saw for the first time
attention enhancing effects on a
physiological level. This supports the
hypothesis that physiological changes,
triggered by interaction with a dog, may
play a key role. Possible factors might
include dopamine, the stress-reducing
effect of dogs, and oxytocin. Dopamine is
known to enhance concentration and
attention (Genro et al., 2010), and one
study found a significant increase in
dopamine in humans after they interacted
with a dog (Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003).
Stress hinders learning (Howland &
Wang, 2008; Kim et al., 2006; Wolf,
Bauser, & Daum, 2011). The well-
documented stress-reducing effects of dogs
might therefore explain why learning is
enhanced in a dog's presence. Interacting
with dogs reduces human cortisol levels in
33 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
stressful situations (Barker, Knisely,
McCain, & Best, 2005; Barker, Knisely,
McCain, Schubert, & Pandurangi, 2010;
Beetz et al., 2011; Friedmann & Son,
2009; Odendaal & Meintjes, 2003). This
may be a direct mechanism, since cortisol
has dose dependent negative effects on
memory and attention processes (Het,
Ramlow, & Wolf, 2005; Vedhara, Hyde,
Gilchrist, Tytherleigh, & Plummer, 2000).
Interacting with dogs also improves
cardiovascular parameters (Allen,
Blascovich, & Mendes, 2002; DeMello,
1999; Friedmann & Son, 2009; Grossberg
& Alf, 1985; Levine et al., 2013;
Nagengast, Baun, Megel, & Leibowitz,
1997). The resulting physical calmness
may improve memory and attention
processes.
It has also been hypothesized that
oxytocin is an underlying mechanism in
this process, inhibiting stress-systems and
providing a direct calming effect that
improves capacity and receptiveness
(Beetz, Uvnäs-Moberg, Julius, &
Kotrschal, 2012; Julius, Beetz, Kotrschal,
Turner, & Uvnäs-Moberg, 2013; Uvnäs-
Moberg, 2003).
Given the results of the questionnaire
that we used, we also believe that
psychological mechanisms play an
important role. The presence of an animal
may stimulate a child's intrinsic motivation
to learn and increase their curiosity and
attention. This effect may not be limited to
learning directly about the animal in their
presence, but also apply to learning and
performing tasks (Beetz, 2012). We also
found that children's motivation was higher
when the dog was present than when AIBO
was present. The children's answers reflect
this, since most of them would have
preferred to interact with the dog twice
instead of interacting with AIBO twice.
The same preference was noted amongst
kindergarten children in a previous study
with AIBO (Ribi, Yokoyama, & Turner,
2008).
The dog's presence may change the
atmosphere for children; the fact that they
felt comfortable in the presence of the dog
supports this notion. Previous results
suggest that dogs influence human
perception of surroundings (Friedmann,
Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, & Messent,
1983; Kruger & Serpell, 2006). People
look happier and more relaxed in a picture
if they are accompanied by a dog
(Lockwood, 1983; Rossbach & Wilson,
1992; Wells & Perrine, 2001). In the
presence of a dog, children might have
trusted the investigator more and felt more
comfortable during the course of the
experiment. Even the tests and the room
itself might have appeared less threatening
in the presence of the dog, since rooms are
perceived as more pleasant when a dog is
in them (Wells & Perrine, 2001). Such a
more positive atmosphere can facilitate
learning. Finally, the children in this study
felt significantly more supported by the
dog than by AIBO, which may have also
positively influenced the children's
memory, attention and concentration
performance.
Limitations
The present study provides promising
new findings that are in line with previous
results, but there are limitations to
consider. The main limitation of the study
is the relatively small sample size. The
study should be replicated with larger
samples and with different populations.
We tested healthy children between ages
34 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
10 and 14, so our results cannot be
generalized to other populations.
We were further limited by potential
reliability problems in the error indices in
the attention tests. The tasks are relatively
simple, and errors are rare even when the
test-taker is pressed for time (Büttner &
Schmidt-Atzert, 2004). If a child makes a
lot of errors, it is hard to discern the
reasons, and this level of error does not
necessary reoccur when the test is
repeated. Therefore, we cannot be certain
that the improvement in error scores was
only caused by the presence of the dog.
Moreover, performance in attention and
concentration tests depends strongly on the
participant's motivation (Büttner &
Schmidt-Atzert, 2004) and, given our study
design, it is impossible to distinguish
motivational effects from other
mechanisms like physiological effects.
This may not be the disadvantage it first
appears, however, since we can conclude
that the different conditions influence the
children's motivation in different ways.
Given the stated theory, the dog seems to
have improved the children's motivation.
But the effect of interacting with the dog
before completing the tasks, and the effect
of the mere presence of the dog while
children completed the tasks cannot be
separated because we did not address each
question separately.
Finally, relatively few controlled
studies use PIR HEG. Its application is
based on the hypothesis that changes in
thermal emission reflect changes in
neuronal activity. No studies confirm these
underlying neuronal mechanisms, although
some early clinical studies show PIR HEG
can be used to successfully treat patients
(Carmen, 2004; Mize, 2004; Stokes &
Lappin, 2010; Toomin & Carmen, 1999).
Moreover, there are preliminary results
from studies with near infrared
hemoencephalography, a related method
(Coben & Padolsky, 2008; Mihara et al.,
2013; Serra-Sala, Tomoneda-Gallart, &
Pérez-Àlvarez, 2012). Our PIR HEG
results are very promising, but should be
interpreted with caution.
Strengths
We tested a non-clinical sample in this
study. The results are therefore relevant for
a majority of school-aged children and
"school dog" projects in classes with
normally developing children. We see this
as a clear strength of this study. We
excluded children who owned a dog at
home to control for the fact that some
children have constant contact with dogs
and others don't. However, it remains
unclear if a dog at home leads to an
enhanced effect, or if the presence of a dog
e.g. at school or in a therapeutic setting
may therefore have an effect ceiling. We
found that it is not necessary to have a
previous or existing relationship with the
dog, although familiar dogs may have a
stronger effect, at least with respect to
stress-buffering (Baun, Bergstrom,
Langston, & Thoma, 1984).
We systematically controlled for many
factors, such as daytime effects and room
temperature. The high comparability of the
two conditions we tested is a further
strength. AIBO was a most comparable
interaction partner to a live dog, and
allowed us to distinguish between the
effect of a living animal with warm fur and
free will and the effect of a simulacrum.
Our study was also strengthened by
the combination of different techniques of
measurement. It is unique in combining an
35 | HAIB
DOGS INCREASE ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN CHILDREN
established method of measuring attention
during performance of neuropsychological
tasks, with a new approach that
simultaneously measures a neurobiological
correlate of attention processes. This
multimodal approach allows us to
speculate on possible mechanisms, and
allows us to raise questions that can be
addressed in future research.
Further directions
Future studies should systematically
evaluate the effects of the presence of a
dog on populations of different ages and
genders, as well as populations with
different psychological and medical
limitations. In particular we suggest that
research might lead to improvements for
children with attention problems such as
ADHD. Such research is pressing, given
the growing number of animal-assisted
therapy programs for children with
attention deficits. We do not yet know if
these children also benefit from interacting
with animals, though we suspect that the
benefits for this population might be even
greater than for normal children, since
there might be a ceiling effect for the
population we investigated. So called
"low-performers" may see higher
performance gains than already "high-
performers" (Finke et al., 2010).
Further studies should be designed to
distinguish between the effect of the mere
presence of a dog, and the effect of
interacting with a dog. The impact of
familiarity with a dog on children's
attention and concentration should also be
addressed in future studies, along with the
effect of different breeds of dog. All these
factors are relevant for school dog
programs and dog-assisted therapies.
Conclusion
Although our results are preliminary,
they imply that interacting with animals
and being in their presence, and, in
particular, the presence of dogs can
enhance human attention and concentration
in some tasks. Nor does the presence of a
dog seem to distract children. Given our
results, we suggest investigating different
conditions and different forms of attention
processes that may influence this effect.
Our study supports the claim that
interacting with a dog and being in the
presence of a dog can increase the attention
and concentration performance of children.
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39 | HAIB
... HAIs and cognitive performance in adults are disproportionately understudied compared to the presence of HAIs in educational contexts (Gee et al., 2017). There have been few direct tests of HAIs and cognitive performance in adults (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015Trammell, 2019) or children (Gee et al., 2010(Gee et al., , 2012Hediger & Turner, 2014). Most of these studies approached cognition from a bio-psycho-social model of stress reduction, analogous to Stress Reduction Theory. ...
... Working memory and attentional control, on the other hand, are components of executive function (McCabe et al., 2010). Yet interacting with a dog does not seem to influence working memory in adults (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015 or attentional control in children (Hediger & Turner, 2014). With so few studies, we need to quantify the influence of HAIs on cognition. ...
... Because animals are an inherent part of nature, and HAI has been tied to biophilia as well, the nature exposure literature created a conceptual framework for predicting that HAI could influence executive functioning. However, our results-and the results of others (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015Hediger & Turner, 2014;Trammell, 2019)-run counter to the findings in the exposure to nature literature. ...
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Human-animal interaction has clear positive effects on people's affect and stress. But less is know about how animal interactions influence cognition. The aim of this study is to investigate whether interacting with animals improves cognitive performance, specifically executive functioning. To test this, we conducted two experiments in which we had participants self-report their affect and complete a series of cognitive tasks (long-term memory, attentional control, and working memory) before and after either a brief interaction with a dog or a control activity. We found that interacting with a dog improved positive affect and decreased negative affect, stress, and anxiety compared to the control condition. However, we did not find effects of animal interaction on long-term memory, attentional control, or working memory. Thus, we replicated existing findings providing evidence that interacting with animals can improve affect, but we did not find similar improvements in cognitive performance. These results suggest that either our interaction was not of sufficient dose to elicit effects on cognition or the mechanisms underlying effects of human-animal interaction on cognition differ from effects generated by other cognition-enhancing interventions such as exposure to nature. Future research should continue to grow the connection between nature exposure and human-animal interaction studies to build our understanding of cognition in response to animal interactions.
... HAIs and cognitive performance in adults are disproportionately understudied compared to the presence of HAIs in educational contexts (Gee et al., 2017). There have been few direct tests of HAIs and cognitive performance in adults (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015Trammell, 2019) or children (Gee et al., 2010(Gee et al., , 2012Hediger & Turner, 2014). Most of these studies approached cognition from a bio-psycho-social model of stress reduction, analogous to Stress Reduction Theory. ...
... Working memory and attentional control, on the other hand, are components of executive function (McCabe et al., 2010). Yet interacting with a dog does not seem to influence working memory in adults (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015 or attentional control in children (Hediger & Turner, 2014). With so few studies, we need to quantify the influence of HAIs on cognition. ...
... Because animals are an inherent part of nature, and HAI has been tied to biophilia as well, the nature exposure literature created a conceptual framework for predicting that HAI could influence executive functioning. However, our results-and the results of others (Gee et al., 2014(Gee et al., , 2015Hediger & Turner, 2014;Trammell, 2019)-run counter to the findings in the exposure to nature literature. ...
Article
Human-animal interaction has clear positive effects on people’s affect and stress. But less is known about how animal interactions influence cognition. We draw parallels between animal interactions and exposure to natural environments, a research area that shows clear improvements in cognitive performance. The aim of this study is to investigate whether interacting with animals similarly enhances cognitive performance, specifically executive functioning. To test this, we conducted two experiments in which we had participants self-report their affect and complete a series of cognitive tasks (long-term memory, attentional control, and working memory) before and after either a brief interaction with a dog or a control activity. We found that interacting with a dog improved positive affect and decreased negative affect (in one of the two experiments), stress, and anxiety compared to the control condition. However, we did not find effects of animal interaction on long-term memory, attentional control, or working memory. Thus, we replicated existing findings providing evidence that interacting with animals can improve affect, but we did not find similar improvements in cognitive performance. These results suggest that either our interaction was not of sufficient dose or timed appropriately to elicit effects on cognition or the mechanisms underlying effects of human-animal interaction on cognition differ from effects generated by other cognition-enhancing interventions such as exposure to nature. Future research should continue to increase knowledge of the connection between nature exposure and human-animal interaction studies to build our understanding of cognition in response to animal interactions.
... An animal-assisted mindfulness intervention for patients with recurrent depression was found to lead to a decrease in depressive symptoms and rumination, and an improvement in overall mindfulness skills with no dropouts 35 . Other studies indicate positive effects of interacting with animals on social behavior and motivation 36,37 , mood 38 , establishing contact, communication and relaxation 39 , stressrelated parameters and positive emotional-physiologic states 40 , anxiety 41,42 , episodic memory 43 , concentration 44,45 , and engagement in behavioral and mental health services 34 . Integrating a domesticated animal in a psychotherapeutic intervention, delivered by a psychotherapist with additional certification in animal-assisted therapy, is conceptualized as animal-assisted psychotherapy 46,47 . ...
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Transdiagnostic psychotherapeutic approaches are increasingly used in neurorehabilitation to address psychological distress. Animal-assistance is thought to increase efficacy. The present study evaluates a psychotherapeutic mindfulness- and self-compassion-based group intervention (MSCBI) with and without animal-assistance for patients with acquired brain injury. Patients (N = 31) were randomly assigned to the 6-week intervention with (n = 14) or without animal-assistance (n = 17). Primary outcome was psychological distress at post- and follow-up treatment, secondary outcomes were changes within-session of patients’ emotional states, adherence to treatment and attrition. Psychological distress significantly decreased in both groups from pre- to follow-up treatment with no difference between groups. Patients in the animal-assisted MSCBI group reported significantly higher increases in feeling secure, accepted, comforted, grateful, motivated and at ease during the sessions compared to patients in the MSCBI group without animal-assistance. Adherence to sessions was significantly higher in the animal-assisted MSCBI group. Attrition did not significantly differ between groups. Our results show that both MSCBIs with and without animal-assistance are feasible and effective in reducing psychological distress in patients with acquired brain injury. The significant changes within-sessions mainly in relationship-based emotional states and the higher treatment adherence suggest additional effects of animal-assistance. Animal-assistance might increase acceptability and patients’ commitment to psychotherapy.
... Studies suggest that interacting with a therapy dog may also improve speed and accuracy on cognitive (e.g., memory, categorization, adherence to instructions) and motor skills tasks among preschool-aged children compared to interacting with a stuffed dog or human (46). Similarly, a recent study showed that 10-14-year-old children had greater frontal lobe activity in the presence of a real dog as compared to a robotic dog, indicating a higher level of neuropsychological attention (47). ...
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Humans have long realized that dogs can be helpful, in a number of ways, to achieving important goals. This is evident from our earliest interactions involving the shared goal of avoiding predators and acquiring food, to our more recent inclusion of dogs in a variety of contexts including therapeutic and educational settings. This paper utilizes a longstanding theoretical framework- the biopsychosocial model- to contextualize the existing research on a broad spectrum of settings and populations in which dogs have been included as an adjunct or complementary therapy to improve some aspect of human health and well-being. A wide variety of evidence is considered within key topical areas including cognition, learning disorders, neurotypical and neurodiverse populations, mental and physical health, and disabilities. A dynamic version of the biopsychosocial model is used to organize and discuss the findings, to consider how possible mechanisms of action may impact overall human health and well-being, and to frame and guide future research questions and investigations.
... The results of this study aligned with other research on the topic that shows that human-animal interaction enhances and facilitates positive traits within us [72,[75][76][77], but most importantly, they permit us to create spaces to unwind, play, and be ourselves. ...
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The coexistence of humans with pets, and the type and quality of interactions that derive from it, is a growing line of research that covers many scientific disciplines: veterinary sciences, education, psychology, biological sciences, sociology, neuroscience, etc. In this article, we analyze both the characteristics of care for pets and the feelings and emotions involved in the human–pet relationship in the population of Puerto Rico. The sample has been of 1436 people. The most representative results of the research show how pets have a positive impact on the mental health of their owners, because of the emotional connection established, which leads them to experience mainly feelings of love, joy and peace.
... The previous studies suggested that early exposure to pets may contribute to child cognitive development [29] and may facilitate language acquisition and potentially enhance verbal skills in children [30]. The presence of animals has been shown to elicit immediate positive effects in testing situations of cognition, such as memory, categorization, and attention [28,[31][32][33][34][35]. Problem-solving assessed in this study is related to cognitive function. ...
Article
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Contact with companion animals has been suggested to have important roles in enhancing child development. However, studies focused on child development and pet ownership at a very early age are limited. The purpose of the current study was to investigate child development in relation to pet ownership at an early age in a nationwide prospective birth cohort study: the Japan Environment and Children’s Study. Associations between cat and dog ownership at six months and infant development at 12 months of age were examined in this study. Infant development was assessed using the Ages & Stages QuestionnairesTM (ASQ-3) at 12 months. Among participants of (Japan Environment and Children’s Study) JECS, those with available data of cat and dog ownership at six months and data for the ASQ-3 at 12 months were included (n = 78,868). Having dogs showed higher percentages of pass in all five domains measured by ASQ-3 (communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal-social) compared to those who did not have dogs. Significantly decreased odds ratios (ORs) of developmental delays were observed in association with having dogs in all fix domains (communication: OR = 0.73, gross motor: OR = 0.86, fine motor: OR = 0.84, problem-solving: OR = 0.90, personal-social: OR = 0.83). This study suggested that early life dog ownership may reduce the risks of child developmental delays.
... Kindern und Jugendlichen in Aufgaben oder leistungsbezogenen Settings fördern kann (Hediger & Turner, 2014;Wohlfarth et al., 2014 In der Schule verbessert die Anwesenheit eines Hundes das Sozialverhalten (Kotrschal & Ortbauer, 2003) und die Interaktion mit einem Hund vermindert die Wahrnehmung von Schmerzen (Braun et al., 2009;Calcaterra et al., 2015;Ichitani & Cunha, 2016). Einige, wenn auch bisher nur korrelativ ausgerichtete Studien legen zudem nahe, dass die Interaktionen mit Tieren die Entwicklung von Empathie bei Kindern fördern kann (Daly & Morton, 2003;Poresky & Hendrix, 1990). ...
Chapter
Animal-assisted education (AAE) presents itself as an alternative solution, a complement to teacher's work, in order to help children achieve an educational goal. The Reading Education Assistance Dogs® (R.E.A.D.®) program presents itself as a good alternative to conventional support offered by schools, since it is documented that the implementation of such innovative and holistic biophilia-based interventions promotes a good integration and more positive school outcomes. The benefits of AAE described in the literature can be understood through the origin of the theoretical framework provided by Bronfenbrenner's theory of bioecological development and the biophilia hypothesis. Taken together, they present an ecological perspective of development which influences all the systems, as well as the proximal interactions, such as with the persons that are reference to the child (parents, teachers) or with the animals with which the child interacts. The dog contributes to the child's emotional ease empowering communication motivation to read.
Article
In this study, we analyze the impact of living with a dog during childhood in relation to the social skills and violent behavior during youth. To do it, 112 young people of both sexes, between 15 and 25 years old, participated; 57 of them had lived with a dog at home for at least 5 years when they were between 2 and 13 years old. While the remaining 55 had never had a dog at home. The evaluation was performed using the multidimensional scale of social expression-motor part (EMES-M) (Caballo, 1987) and the Aggression Questionnaire (AQ) (Buss & Perry, 1992). The comparison of the groups showed that young people who had never had a dog scored higher on the scale of violent behavior. We did not found significant differences in social skills; although the results indicate that those young people who had lived with a dog for more years, had more social skills. We conclude that the presence of a dog at home can positively affect the environment in which children and adolescents grow up.
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Os percursos de aprendizagem formal da leitura são heterogéneos, devendo as dificuldades encontradas serem consideradas transitórias e passíveis de intervenção. No projeto “A Ler Vamos. . . ” e “L. E. R. Cãofiante” esta concetualização das dificuldades dos alunos encontradas nos primeiros anos de escolaridade tem orientado a criação de estratégias de intervenção sistemáticas e baseadas cientificamente. Participaram no estudo 39 alunos do 2º ano de escolaridade dos concelhos de Matosinhos e de Silves, identificados como apresentando dificuldades na aprendizagem da leitura. Os alunos distribuíram-se por dois grupos experimentais e um grupo de controle, existindo equivalência nos seus desempenhos antes do início da intervenção. Os alunos pertencentes ao grupo experimental beneficiaram de uma intervenção bissemanal de promoção de competências de consciência fonológica, descodificação leitora e fluência na leitura, sendo esta ação complementada com 15 minutos/sessão com recurso ao software Graphogame Português Alicerce. Esta intervenção decorreu entre novembro de 2016 e maio de 2017. A eficácia da intervenção foi avaliada através de um design com duas medidas repetidas no tempo e o fator grupo (recorrendo a anovas mistas) A análise dos resultados permite constatar a eficácia da intervenção. Para além dos resultados quantitativos obtidos, verificou-se que alguns dos alunos envolvidos nos grupos experimentais obtiveram uma evolução muito significativa, igualando os desempenhos médios das suas turmas, ao longo do ano letivo. Este estudo permite validar a intervenção realizada nos concelhos de Matosinhos e Silves, conjugando a construção de estratégias consideradas eficazes na promoção de competências basilares da leitura com as novas tecnologias. Neste artigo serão tecidas considerações sobre a concetualização subjacente à intervenção, bem como sobre as atividades realizadas e a possibilidade de generalização destas intervenções baseadas cientificamente
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The effect on anxiety of petting an animal and the underlying mechanisms of such an effect were examined by a repeated-measures, within-session experiment with 58 non-clinical participants. Participants were exposed to a stressful situation in the laboratory – the presence of a Tarantula spider, which they were told they might be asked to hold – and then randomly assigned to one of five groups: petting a rabbit, a turtle, a toy rabbit, a toy turtle or to a control group. Participants’ attitudes towards animals were measured as potential moderators. State-anxiety was assessed at baseline, after the stress manipulation, and after the experimental manipulation. The main findings showed that petting an animal reduced state-anxiety. This effect could not be attributed to the petting per se, since it was observed only with animals and not with matched toys. The anxiety-reducing effect of petting an animal applied to both the soft cuddly animals and the hard-shelled ones. The anxiety-reducing effect applied to people with different attitudes towards animals and was not restricted to animal lovers. The discussion addresses possible emotional and cognitive foundations of the observed effects and their implications.
Article
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States.1 Despite efforts promoting primary and secondary CVD prevention,2–8 obesity and physical inactivity remain at epidemic proportions, with >60% of Americans adults overweight or obese and >50% not performing recommended levels of physical activity.9 Similarly, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and other CVD risk factors remain poorly controlled in many Americans. Despite numerous pharmacological and device-based advances in the management of patients with established CVD, morbidity and mortality associated with this condition remain substantial. Hence, a critical need exists for novel strategies and interventions that can potentially reduce the risk of CVD and its attendant morbidity and mortality. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between pet (primarily dog or cat) ownership and CVD, with many reporting beneficial effects, including increased physical activity, favorable lipid profiles, lower systemic blood pressure, improved autonomic tone, diminished sympathetic responses to stress, and improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome. Accordingly, the potential cardiovascular benefits of pet ownership have received considerable lay press and medical media coverage and attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention10 and have been the focus of a meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.11 The purpose of this American Heart Association Scientific Statement is to critically assess the data regarding the influence of pet ownership on the presence and reduction of CVD risk factors and CVD risk. Some, but not all, studies of pet ownership and systemic blood pressure have found an association between pet ownership and lower blood pressure. An Australian study of 5741 participants attending a free screening clinic found that pet owners had significantly ( P =0.03) lower systolic blood pressures than pet nonowners despite similar body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic profiles.12 In a study of 240 married couples …
Article
Pet owners often describe their pets as important and cherished family members who offer solace in times of stress. This article considers evidence suggesting that pets influence human blood pressure. Studies on this topic extend current research testing the hypothesis that having other people around in stressful times can buffer the negative consequences of stress. The existing data suggest that people perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives and that the presence of a pet is associated with significant cardiovascular benefits, among both people with normal blood pressure and those with high blood pressure. Studies about pets and blood pressure have examined both naturally occurring and randomly assigned pet ownership but are limited by their focus on responses to short-term, acute stress. Future prospective studies should explore the influence of pets on people at risk for cardiovascular disease and also consider explanatory mechanisms for the pet effect.
Article
Previous research has shown that the presence of a dog can positively impact the speed at which preschoolers perform motor skills tasks and also their ability to adhere to instructions. The current study focused on the execution of a cognitive task-object categorization-by developmentally delayed and typical preschool children in the presence of a real dog, a stuffed dog, or a human. The real dog involved in this study was a Miniature Poodle. The children (n = 12) were asked to complete a match-to-sample task in which they had to choose a picture of an object that "goes with" another. Three categories of object exemplars were used: taxonomic, thematic, and irrelevant. The presence of the real dog resulted in significantly fewer irrelevant choices than either the stuffed dog or the human conditions. Additionally, results in this experiment were consistent with previous research, showing a developmental shift where younger children were more likely to make taxonomic than thematic choices, with the reverse true of the older children. These results indicate that the presence of the real dog does not appear to alter typical performance patterns seen in object categorization, but the fact that fewer errors were made in the presence of the dog indicates that the presence of the dog does have a positive impact on performance of this cognitive task. The authors discuss several possible explanations for this outcome.
Article
Background. Hemoencephalography (HEG) is cortical circulatory biofeedback using refracted light tuned to oxygenated hemoglobin, emitted into the skull and detected at the scalp using a photoelectric cell. Red light at 660 nm is used as the probe, with changes in the returning refracted light representing changes in cortical circulation.Method. A single-subject design case study was employed. TL, at age twelve, had a well-established diagnosis of ADHD given by pediatric neurologists, and required significant stimulant medication that was clinically effective. He was performing well in school on Concerta 36 mg at 7 a.m. and Ritalin 5 mg at 4 p.m. Off medication, he had significant abnormalities on IVA testing (Attention Quotient or AQ = 78) and in the quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG). Using HEG, the patient engaged the system to exercise increases in signals corresponding to cortical circulation in the prefrontal cortex. QEEG, Continuous Performance Testing (CPT) and clinical status measurements were made before and after 10 sessions of HEG therapy. HEG exercise was typically given in weekly to bi-weekly sessions for 10 minutes in each of three standard prefrontal EEG locations: FP1, FP2 and FPz.Results. During the 10 therapy sessions TL's HEG data showed positive gain indicating success at raising the biofeedback signal. Following the 10 sessions, TL showed a normal QEEG with improved Z scores for relative power and normal IVA testing off medication (mean AQ 99.75 ± 7.85 on three dates), which persisted in the 18-month follow-up. His medication was lowered to Focalin 2.5 mg twice daily.Conclusion. This work documents a patient who showed clinically significant improvement after only 10 sessions using a new form of neurobiofeedback, hemoencephalography. If confirmed in controlled studies, this represents a breakthrough in treatment options for ADHD. Future studies should explore synergies between HEG and EEG neurofeedback therapies.
Article
Background and purpose: Despite the findings that motor imagery and execution are supposed to share common neural networks, previous studies using imagery-based rehabilitation have revealed inconsistent results. In the present study, we investigated whether feedback of cortical activities (neurofeedback) using near-infrared spectroscopy could enhance the efficacy of imagery-based rehabilitation in stroke patients. Methods: Twenty hemiplegic patients with subcortical stroke received 6 sessions of mental practice with motor imagery of the distal upper limb in addition to standard rehabilitation. Subjects were randomly allocated to REAL and SHAM groups. In the REAL group, cortical hemoglobin signals detected by near-infrared spectroscopy were fed back during imagery. In the SHAM group, irrelevant randomized signals were fed back. Upper limb function was assessed using the finger and arm subscales of the Fugl-Meyer assessment and the Action Research Arm Test. Results: The hand/finger subscale of the Fugl-Meyer assessment showed greater functional gain in the REAL group, with a significant interaction between time and group (F(2,36)=15.5; P<0.001). A significant effect of neurofeedback was revealed even in severely impaired subjects. Imagery-related cortical activation in the premotor area was significantly greater in the REAL group than in the SHAM group (T(58)=2.4; P<0.05). Conclusions: Our results suggest that near-infrared spectroscopy-mediated neurofeedback may enhance the efficacy of mental practice with motor imagery and augment motor recovery in poststroke patients with severe hemiparesis.