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A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups

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A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups

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Although organizations use a variety of interventions to improve group functioning, getting people to work effectively with each other remains challenging. Because the presence of a dog has been shown to have positive effects on mood and dyadic interaction, we expected that the presence of a companion dog would also have positive effects on people in work groups. One reason for this is that a companion dog is likely to elevate positive emotions, which often promote prosocial behavior. In study 1 (n = 120) and study 2 (n = 120), participants were randomly assigned to either a dogpresent or dog-absent four-person group. Three friendly companion dogs were randomly assigned to the dog-present groups; only one dog at a time was used during any given experimental session. In study 1, groups worked on an interactive problem-solving task; participants in the dog-present group displayed more verbal cohesion, physical intimacy, and cooperation. Study 2 was identical except that participants worked on a decision-making task requiring less interaction; participants in the dog-present condition displayed more verbal cohesion and physical intimacy and gave higher ratings of trustworthiness to fellow group members. In study 3, we examined behavioral indicators of positive emotions in dog-present and dog-absent groups. Naïve observers (n = 160) rated silent, 40-second video clips of interaction in groups where either a dog was (1) present but not visible or (2) not present. Behavior in dog-present groups was rated as more cooperative, comfortable, friendly, active, enthusiastic, and attentive. We discuss areas for future research and implications of our findings for work and educational settings.
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Anthrozoös
A multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals
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A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in
Work Groups
Stephen M. Colarelli, Amanda M. McDonald, Matthew S. Christensen &
Christopher Honts
To cite this article: Stephen M. Colarelli, Amanda M. McDonald, Matthew S. Christensen &
Christopher Honts (2017) A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups,
Anthrozoös, 30:1, 77-89, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2017.1270595
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2017.1270595
Published online: 09 Feb 2017.
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Address for correspondence:
Stephen M. Colarelli,
Central Michigan University,
Department of Psychology,
Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859,
USA. E-mail:
colar1sm@cmich.edu
77 Anthrozoös DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2017.1270595
A Companion Dog Increases
Prosocial Behavior in Work
Groups
Stephen M. Colarelli, Amanda M. McDonald,
Matthew S. Christensen and Christopher Honts
Central Michigan University, Department of Psychology, Mt. Pleasant,
Michigan, USA
ABSTRACT Although organizations use a variety of interventions to improve
group functioning, getting people to work effectively with each other remains
challenging. Because the presence of a dog has been shown to have posi-
tive effects on mood and dyadic interaction, we expected that the presence
of a companion dog would also have positive effects on people in work
groups. One reason for this is that a companion dog is likely to elevate posi-
tive emotions, which often promote prosocial behavior. In study 1 (n= 120)
and study 2 (n= 120), participants were randomly assigned to either a dog-
present or dog-absent four-person group. Three friendly companion dogs
were randomly assigned to the dog-present groups; only one dog at a time
was used during any given experimental session. In study 1, groups worked
on an interactive problem-solving task; participants in the dog-present group
displayed more verbal cohesion, physical intimacy, and cooperation. Study 2
was identical except that participants worked on a decision-making task re-
quiring less interaction; participants in the dog-present condition displayed
more verbal cohesion and physical intimacy and gave higher ratings of trust-
worthiness to fellow group members. In study 3, we examined behavioral in-
dicators of positive emotions in dog-present and dog-absent groups. Naïve
observers (n= 160) rated silent, 40-second video clips of interaction in groups
where either a dog was (1) present but not visible or (2) not present. Behavior
in dog-present groups was rated as more cooperative, comfortable, friendly,
active, enthusiastic, and attentive. We discuss areas for future research and
implications of our findings for work and educational settings.
Keywords: companion dog, prosocial behavior, small groups, work
groups
When the Man waked up he said, “What is Wild Dog doing
here?” And the Woman said, “His name is not Wild Dog any
more, but the First Friend because he will be our friend for always
and always and always.” —Rudyard Kipling
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Groups and teams have become increasingly common in modern work and educational
settings. In many organizations the focus of work has shifted from individuals to groups, often
in response to complex problems where the generation of solutions requires diverse skills
(Tannenbaum, Mathieu, Salas, & Cohen, 2012). In addition, the global and project-based na-
ture of modern work has given rise to short-term work groups with diverse memberships. Thus,
the ubiquity of groups, their diverse membership, and temporary nature make it all the more im-
portant that group members interact comfortably and do so quickly, without a lengthy and
stormy adjustment process. Although organizations use a variety of interventions to improve
work group functioning, getting to the point where group members work effectively together
remains challenging and resource intensive. Unfortunately, most group development interven-
tions (e.g., team building) tend to be infrequent and costly, and they typically occur in settings
that differ from the actual performance environment (Klein et al., 2009). Interventions that are
more continuous and present in the workplace may be more effective in nudging behavior
toward desired ends (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Interestingly, something as simple as bringing
a companion dog (Canis familiaris) to work may be such an intervention.
Although companion dogs are infrequently seen in today’s work and educational settings,
the presence of a dog often has positive effects on mood and interaction, generating an
atmosphere where people behave in a more trusting, friendly, and cooperative manner. People
appear happier, friendlier, and more relaxed in the presence of a dog (Rossbach & Wilson,
1992). Students shown pictures of college professors’ offices with a dog, cat, or no animal per-
ceived professors as more friendly and their offices as more comfortable when a dog was
present (Wells & Perrine, 2001). The frequency of interaction with strangers increases when a
dog accompanies an individual, even if he is dressed shabbily (McNicholas & Collis, 2000) or
has a disability (Mader, Hart, & Bergin, 1989). People are also more likely to help a stranger who
is accompanied by a dog, and men accompanied by a dog receive more favorable responses
from women to courtship gestures (Guéguen & Ciccotti, 2008).
Most studies on human–dog interaction have been conducted with dyads during brief
encounters; however, three streams of research and theory suggest that the presence of a dog
should have a positive influence on human interaction and attitudes in small groups. These
include our shared evolutionary history with the dog, the unique inter-species communication
between people and dogs, and the influence of the dog’s features and behaviors on human
nurturing mechanisms. These more distal influences are, in turn, likely to influence positive
emotions, which we argue may be key proximal mechanisms by which a companion dog
influences prosocial behavior, trust, and intimacy in small groups.
Companion Dogs and Human Interaction
Shared Evolutionary History: For at least 15,000 years humans and dogs have had a unique
symbiotic relationship (Vilà et al., 1997).1During this time dogs have been our guardians,
helpers at work, and companions. Humans have influenced the dog’s evolution through do-
mestication, selective breeding, and by becoming its primary ecological niche. Dogs have in-
fluenced human evolution (Shipman, 2015), particularly the evolution of human cooperation
(Schleidt & Shalter, 2003). Ethnographic and archeological evidence suggests that the
domestication of dogs occurred, in part, because of the dog’s value in cooperative hunting
(Ruusila & Pesonen, 2004). Humans were able to cooperate in more complex ways with the
use of dogs (Schleidt & Shalter, 2003). In particular, hunting strategies with dogs involved com-
plex coordination, interaction, and communication. For example, dogs could flush and hold
A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups
78 Anthrozoös
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game, allowing humans to develop coordinated efforts to obtain their prey. When early humans
used dogs as hunting partners, they most likely increased their intake of protein (Koster &
Tankersley, 2012; Ruusila & Pesonen, 2004). Thus, humans who kept, worked with, and
adapted to dogs had a selective advantage over those who did not (Shipman, 2015).2
Inter-species Communication: Convergent evolution between humans and dogs sculpted our
unique inter-species communication (Nagasawa et al., 2015). Both dogs and socialized wolves
respond to human pointing cues, with relative success dependent on context and life history
(Udell, Dorey, & Wynne, 2008). Dogs will readily gaze at a human’s face and will follow the
human eye gaze (Hare, Brown, Williamson, & Tomasello, 2002). Additionally, dogs recognize
some human emotions and respond by mirroring them and displaying characteristics of em-
pathy (Silva, Bessa, & de Sousa, 2012). For example, dogs appear to respond empathetically
to signs of emotional distress in humans, even with strangers (Custance & Mayer, 2012).
Effects of Dogs on Human Nurturing Mechanisms: Some of the dog’s behaviors—for example,
attachment behaviors to caregivers and social referencing gazes—are similar to those of young
humans (Rehn, McGowan, & Keeling, 2013). These similarities, as well as its neotenous
features, may have allowed the dog to co-opt human nurturing mechanisms (Archer & Monton,
2011), which may trigger responses in humans as if the dog were a child. For example, people
often speak in motherese to dogs in the same way they do to infants (Mitchell, 2001).
Companion Dogs, Positive Emotions, and Prosocial Behavior
Companion Dogs and Positive Emotions: Many of the dog’s behaviors and the interactions that
people have with dogs are likely to lead to positive emotions. More specifically, companion
dogs can generate positive emotions by fostering social inclusion, acting as a social catalyst,
increasing the perception of human likability, and activating physical and physiological
mechanisms associated with positive emotions.
It is well known that social inclusion is associated with positive emotions and that social ex-
clusion is associated with negative emotions (Blackhart, Knowles, Nelson, & Baumeister,
2009). Companion dogs are likely to foster social inclusion in several ways. People may feel
more included, especially in a new group, simply by interacting with a dog (McConnell, Brown,
Shoda, Stayton, & Martin, 2011). Friendly dogs often take the initiative in interacting with and
showing affection toward people. The interaction with, and affection from, a dog can make
people feel less isolated and more included.
A dog may function as a social catalyst—an engaging, safe, and neutral topic for opening
a conversation—providing common ground for creating comfortable interaction. Furthermore,
the dog’s ability to attend to human cues and respond empathetically to human emotions may
also allow the dog to stimulate social interaction (Graham & Glover, 2014). For example, a dog
might stimulate human interaction by drawing people’s attention to one another (McNicholas
& Collis, 2000) by moving and responding empathetically to individuals who appear in distress
or who are happy and animated.
A companion dog may also increase positive emotions in a group because people appear
more likeable in the presence of a companion dog (Rossbach & Wilson, 1992; Wells & Perrine,
2001), and people experience more positive emotions in the presence of likeable people than
unlikeable people (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1991). People may appear more likeable in the presence
of a companion dog for a variety of reasons. For example, individuals in the presence of a dog
Colarelli et al.
79 Anthrozoös
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may seem less threatening and more approachable. People may perceive situations where a
companion dog is present in a similar manner to those with adults and children—safe and
friendly (Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch, & Messent, 1983). This may be particularly true for new
groups, where people are unacquainted and anxious.
Finally, a dog may increase positive emotions through physical and physiological mech-
anisms. This can occur through affectionate touch and eye contact. Research shows that
physical touch is linked to increased positive emotions (Fisher, Rytting, & Heslin, 1976;
Whitcher & Fisher, 1979). For example, Vormbrock and Grossberg (1988) found that petting
a companion dog lowers people’s heart rate and blood pressure, making them feel calmer
and relaxed. Affectionate mutual eye gaze is an indicator of liking (Kleinke, 1986), and mu-
tual eye gaze between humans and dogs boosts oxytocin, which is associated with positive
emotions (Nagasawa et al., 2015).
Regardless of how the dog increases positive emotions, a companion dog’s effect on positive
emotions is likely to spread throughout the group due to the common occurrence of emotional
contagion in groups (Barsade, 2002). To the extent that the dog increases positive emotions
within a group, this may create feedback loops, encouraging additional behaviors (e.g., touch,
eye gaze, inclusive conversation) that further increase the likelihood of positive emotions.
Prosocial Behavior: In general, prosocial behavior can be defined as social acts that benefit or
display concern for others (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2005). In the workplace and
in work groups in particular, prosocial behavior is commonly associated with cooperating,
helping others, and spreading goodwill (George & Brief, 1992). Positive emotions often gen-
erate good will and altruistic behavior toward others, facilitating prosocial behavior. Numerous
studies have shown a strong link between positive emotions and prosocial behavior (e.g.,
Levin & Isen, 1975; Rosenhan, Salovey, & Hargis, 1981). One way that positive emotions do
this is by broadening the scope of thought and action (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005; Michie,
2009). Positive emotions are also intertwined with trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005), and peo-
ple are more likely to be verbally and physically intimate with people they trust (Larzelere &
Huston, 1980).
For this research we conducted three experiments. In studies 1 and 2 we examined how a
companion dog might influence prosocial behavior, intimacy, and trust among members of
small groups. We examined the effects of a companion dog in groups engaged in a problem-
solving task (study 1) and a decision-making task (study 2). In study 3, naïve observers rated
“thin slices” of behavior related to positive emotions in dog-present and dog-absent groups.
Study 1
In this study we examined the effects of the presence of a companion dog during a group
problem-solving task. This involved a common goal and required group interaction.
Methods
Participants and Design: The sample consisted of undergraduate psychology students at a
Midwestern university (n= 120); 81 were women and 39 were men. The mean age was 19
years. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: dog-present or dog-
absent. Participants were pre-screened for allergies to and fear of dogs.
Procedure and Materials: Prior to data collection, this study was approved by Central Michigan
University’s Institutional Review Board (approval number: 102678-2). We obtained written and
A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups
80 Anthrozoös
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Colarelli et al.
81 Anthrozoös
informed consent from all participants. The animals used in this study were treated in a humane
and ethical manner, and no animals were harmed during this research.
Participants were assembled into four-person groups. Groups in both conditions were
asked to engage in a group-based problem-solving task in which their goal was to generate
a 15-second advertisement and slogan for a fictional product. The task was designed to be
intellectually demanding and relatively unstructured. The task also incorporated a strategy for
effectively brainstorming creative solutions as a team (individual solution development prior to
group solution development; Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991). Group sessions were recorded
using a JVC Everio digital video recorder.3At the beginning and end of each session, partici-
pants’ heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressure were measured using an Omron
HEM-790IT automatic blood pressure monitor. After each session, participants completed a
3-item group member satisfaction scale adapted from Tekleab, Quigley, and Tesluk (2009,
= 0.94) and a 12-item interpersonal trust scale adapted from Johnson-George and Swap
(1982; = 0.85). Both used 7-point Likert scales (1 = low; 7 = high).
Three friendly companion dogs were used in this study (a Jack Russell terrier, a medium-
sized mixed breed, and a standard poodle). The dogs were randomly assigned to the dog-
present groups; only one dog at a time was used during any given experimental (dog-present)
condition. Each dog was off-leash during experimental sessions.
The video recordings were viewed and coded by six independent raters, where three raters
were randomly assigned to code each participant. Raters indicated how frequently partici-
pants displayed the following behaviors: “cooperation” (physical or verbal behavior where an
individual provides support to other individuals in the group either through physical gestures
or by supporting or encouraging statements or ideas), “verbal cohesion” (verbal interaction
between one team member and another related to creating or increasing bonding or close-
ness), “verbal intimacy” (verbal behavior where an individual makes himself or herself vulnera-
ble to others in a manner that indicates an increase in trust between group members), and
“physical intimacy” (physical interactions that reflect an attempt to create or increase closeness
or bonding). Ratings were made on 5-point Likert scales (1= not at all; 5 = very frequently).
Reliabilities (intraclass correlations) across raters ranged from 0.73 to 0.82. The definitions of
the behavioral dimensions, sample behaviors, and rating anchors are in Appendix 1.
Results and Discussion
There was greater verbal cohesion, cooperation, and physical intimacy in the dog condition.
Dog-present and dog-absent groups did not differ significantly on verbal intimacy, interpersonal
trust, and group member satisfaction (Table 1).
Dog-present and dog-absent groups did not differ in pre-post heart rate (Wilks’ Lambda
= 0.974, F(1, 118) = 3.18, p= 0.08); or diastolic (Wilks’ Lambda = 0.997, F(1, 118) = 0.32, p=
0.57) or systolic (Wilks’ Lambda = 0.997, F(1, 118) = 0.31, p= 0.58) blood pressure.
The results of study 1 indicate that a companion dog had a positive influence on several
aspects of prosocial behavior. Most effect sizes were moderate. The largest effects were on
cooperation and physical intimacy.
Study 2
In this study we examined the effects of the presence of a companion dog during a decision-
making task. This was a mixed-motive task that required less group interaction than the prob-
lem-solving task in study 1.
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Methods
Participants and Design: The sample consisted of undergraduate psychology students at a
Midwestern university (n= 120); 82 were women and 38 were men. The mean age was 20
years (not significantly different from the mean age in study 1). Participants were randomly
assigned to one of two conditions: dog-present or dog-absent.
Procedure and Materials: Materials and procedures were identical to those used in study 1,
except the task. In this experiment participants engaged in a decision-making task—a modified
prisoner’s dilemma game. They were presented with a scenario requiring them to make a
choice either to cooperate or not cooperate with their group members. Individuals were to as-
sume the following. They were accused of committing a crime together, arrested, and taken
to jail; the police had insufficient evidence for a conviction; so the police separated each of the
accused and offered each the following deal. “You have to decide whether or not to testify
against the other three suspects. You can testify against the other three or you can remain
silent. How things turn out for you depends on your decision and the decisions of each of the
others.” Each participant was presented with a payoff matrix showing the rewards. Each par-
ticipant’s decision to cooperate or not cooperate was private. The payoff matrix was similar to
the original dyadic prisoner’s dilemma payoff matrix, except that it was re-calibrated for four
individuals. An individual would receive the highest payoff by not cooperating when others
chose to cooperate. The second highest payoff would be when a participant chose to
cooperate and all others also chose to cooperate. Reliabilities of behavior ratings (intraclass
correlations) across raters ranged from 0.75 to 0.87.
Results and Discussion
Participants in the dog-present condition displayed greater verbal cohesion, physical intimacy,
and interpersonal trust than those in the no-dog condition. Dog-present and dog-absent
groups did not differ significantly on verbal cooperation, verbal intimacy, and group member
satisfaction (Table 2).
Once again, dog and no-dog groups did not differ in pre-post heart rate (Wilks’ Lambda
= 0.996, F(1, 118) = 0.53, p= 0.470); or diastolic (Wilks’ Lambda = 0.987, F(1, 118) = 1.59, p= 0.21)
or systolic (Wilks’ Lambda = 0.996, F(1, 118) = 0.52, p= 0.471) blood pressure.
A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups
82 Anthrozoös
Table 1. Effects of a companion dog in problem-solving groups (study 1).
Dog No Dog Mean Difference 95% Confidence
Interval of the Difference
M SD M SD t (df) Cohen’s dLower Upper
Verbal Cohesion 3.27 0.77 2.87 0.91 –2.30 (90)* 0.47 –0.751 –0.054
Cooperation 3.59 0.75 3.10 1.17 –2.44 (90)* 0.50 –0.888 –0.091
Physical Intimacy 3.07 0.84 2.61 1.02 –2.38 (90)* 0.49 –0.848 –0.076
Verbal Intimacy 2.66 0.91 2.31 1.15 –1.63 (90) 0.34 –0.780 0.076
Interpersonal Trust 2.92 0.92 3.01 0.87 0.57 (118) 0.10 –0.236 0.428
Group Satisfaction 1.54 0.63 1.81 0.88 1.88 (118) 0.35 –0.0139 0.540
Observation ratings were on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). Self-report ratings of interpersonal trust and group sat-
isfaction were on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high).
*p< 0.05.
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Even though the task in study 2 involved mixed motives and less interaction than in study
1, a companion dog still had positive effects on prosocial behavior and trust. That trust was
higher in the dog-present condition suggests that the presence of dog may increase trust
levels in situations where trust is inherently problematic.
Study 3
In study 3 we examined a companion dog’s effects on behavioral indicators of positive emo-
tions. We compared ratings of dog-present vs. dog-absent groups when the dog was not
visible to raters—naïve observers who viewed group interaction only briefly (40 s).
Methods
Participants: We recruited 160 participants using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mturk). Using a
power analysis, we targeted a sample size of 150 participants, 75 in each condition. From an
initial sample of 265, we removed 105 individuals for non-purposeful responding. Non-
purposeful responding was indicated when a participant answered all questions with the same
number or incorrectly answered a question to flag non-purposeful responding (e.g., “Answer
this question with the number 3”).
Procedure and Materials: We created “thin slice” video clips of group interaction from study 1
videos.4Eleven videos (6 experimental, 5 control), approximately 40-minutes in length, were
originally edited. After removing sections of the videos where instructions were read and blood
pressure was taken, we randomly selected eight 40-second thin-slice videos (out of the 33 thin
slices taken)—four from the dog and four from the no-dog videos. We used videos from study
1 because the group task involved more interaction than the task in study 2. All of the stimulus
videos were cropped above waist level, which prevented participants from seeing the dog.
Control videos were also cropped to maintain similarity. The sound on the videos was muted. Pilot
tests revealed that raters were unaware that a dog was present in the thin-slice videos.
The dependent variables in this study were behavioral indicators of positive emotions.
Raters assessed group interaction on six indicators related to positive emotion (cf. Watson
& Tellegen, 1985): cooperative, friendly, comfortable, active, enthusiastic, and attentive.
They also reflect the broadening of the scope of thought and action that often occur with
positive emotions.
Colarelli et al.
83 Anthrozoös
Table 2. Effects of a companion dog in decision-making groups (study 2).
Dog No Dog Mean Difference 95% Confidence
Interval of the Difference
M SD M SD t (df) Cohen’s dLower Upper
Verbal Cohesion 3.09 1.09 2.69 1.02 –2.06 (118)* 0.38 –0.778 –0.015
Cooperation 2.51 1.05 2.34 1.13 –0.86 (118) 0.16 –0.567 0.224
Physical Intimacy 3.04 0.90 2.58 1.01 –2.66 (118)* 0.48 –0.810 –0.119
Verbal Intimacy 2.86 1.13 2.61 1.10 –1.27 (118) 0.22 –0.661 0.145
Interpersonal Trust 2.95 0.91 3.31 1.01 2.06 (118)* 0.37 0.013 0.710
Group Satisfaction 2.19 1.29 2.27 1.39 0.32 (118) 0.06 –0.407 0.563
Observation ratings were on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). Self-report ratings of interpersonal trust and group
satisfaction were on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high).
*p< 0.05.
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People are quite accurate at judging peoples’ emotional states from facial expressions and
other behaviors (Ekman, 1992), and their judgments can be accurate without personal inter-
action—for example, when viewing a videotape of an individual or individuals (Funder & Colvin,
1988). Each indicator was measured with a single item (e.g., cooperative), rated from 1 (not
at all) to 7 (very much). Single-item descriptors are typical for thin-slices studies (Ambady &
Rosenthal, 1993) because they are more amenable to rating brief episodes of behavior.
Each participant saw two videos. The videos were randomly assigned and counterbalanced
so that people did not always receive the experimental or control video first. The participants
were instructed to watch the first video once, and only once, and then rate the group interac-
tion. They were then asked to repeat the same procedure for the second video. Each video was
followed by the request to rate the group interaction on the six dependent variables. Questions
to flag non-purposeful responding were included with the dependent measures.
Results and Discussion
Intercorrelations of the six dependent variables ranged from 0.34 to 0.62, with a mean corre-
lation of 0.48. Mean ratings of the dog-present and dog-absent clips differed significantly on
all six indicators (see Table 3), with the ratings being higher for all of the dog-present videos.
There were significant differences on ratings of cooperative, friendly, comfortable, active,
enthusiastic, and attentive. These results indicate that a companion dog increased positive
emotions among members of small groups, and that these effects were robust enough to be
noticeable even though raters observed the interaction for only 40-seconds.
General Discussion
Groups and teams are increasingly common in today’s work and educational settings; yet im-
proving the quality of group interaction in these settings has remained difficult. Because a
number of studies have found that a companion dog improves the quality of interaction in
dyadic interaction, we sought to investigate whether a companion dog could increase proso-
cial behavior, intimacy, and trust in small work groups. In two different types of groups we
found encouraging results. In both problem-solving and decision-making groups (studies 1
and 2, respectively), those with a dog present evidenced more verbal cohesion and physical
intimacy. Thus, regardless of the group’s task, when a companion dog was present, group
members spoke in a more positive and friendly manner to one another (verbal cohesion), and
group members were more likely to make eye contact, lean toward one another, and touch
A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups
84 Anthrozoös
Table 3. Thin Slice behavior ratings (study 3).
Dog No Dog Mean Difference 95% Confidence
Interval of the Difference
M SD M SD t (df) Cohen’s dLower Upper
Comfortable 4.83 1.58 4.24 1.75 –3.11 (318)* 0.35 –0.949 –0.214
Cooperative 4.69 1.45 3.93 1.69 –4.30 (318)** 0.48 –1.102 –0.410
Friendly 4.84 1.47 4.13 1.86 –3.84 (318)** 0.43 –1.087 –0.351
Active 4.25 1.57 3.57 1.76 –3.65 (318)** 0.41 –1.049 –0.314
Enthusiastic 3.84 1.58 3.33 1.70 –2.80 (318)* 0.31 –0.873 –0.152
Attentive 4.50 1.61 3.99 1.73 –2.71 (318)* 0.30 –0.874 –0.138
*p< 0.05, **p< 0.01.
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one another (physical intimacy). Two outcomes, however, differed by type of task. In problem-
solving groups, which involved a common goal that required considerable interaction, groups
with a dog present evidenced more cooperation. Whereas, in decision-making groups, which
involved mixed motives and required little interaction, groups with a dog present evidenced
greater interpersonal trust.
In study 3, all of the behavioral indicators of positive emotion were higher in the dog-pre-
sent groups. Most strikingly, a companion dog’s effects on positive emotions were still no-
ticeable to observers who were unaware of the presence of the dog and who viewed group
interaction for less than a minute.
Admittedly, the mechanisms through which a dog influences interpersonal behavior are
complex and multifaceted. Our research, however, provides evidence for at least one mech-
anism. The results of study 3 indicate that the presence of a companion dog increases
positive emotions among group members. We argue that a companion dog’s influence on
group members’ emotional states is likely to stimulate prosocial behavior, intimacy, and
trust. However, further research is needed to determine more precisely the dog’s influence
on these processes.
Limitations and Future Research
A limitation of the current study is that we used only one treatment condition. Having
additional experimental conditions would be a good next step, particularly for examining
characteristics of the dog that might influence behavior in groups. Also, it is possible that time
constraints were a limiting factor. Developing and sustaining high levels of trust and positive
emotional regard in groups takes time. Nevertheless, that the presence of a dog produced
positive outcomes in experimental sessions lasting less than an hour suggests that the
effects are robust.
Additional research is needed on the effects of specific behaviors and features of the dog,
particularly in comparison with other animals or non-living objects to examine: (1) what features
and behaviors have the largest effects on behavior in groups, (2) what are their main effects,
and (3) how might they interact with their bearers. How do movement (movement toward and
away from people, general movement) and appearance (cuteness or neoteny) influence be-
havior in groups? How does a dog compare with active versus non-active or cute versus ugly
toys? A recent study by Thodberg et al. (2016), for example, found that when a dog was com-
pared with a toy robot seal (cute and active) and a stuffed cat (cute and inactive), nursing home
residents interacted most with the dog and robot seal; over time, however, attention diminished
toward the robot seal. Additional research should be conducted with other objects and animals
in small group settings.
More research on the dog’s effects on human physiology may also help us to understand
how the dog influences human emotion. Affectionate touch releases the social bonding hor-
mone oxytocin (Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham, & Light, 2008), and extended petting of a dog can
increase oxytocin levels, leading to greater feelings of calmness, trust, and openness to social
engagement (Handlin, Nilsson, Ejdebäck, Hydbring-Sandberg, & Uvnäs-Moberg, 2012).
Mutual eye gaze also increases oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs (Nagasawa et al.,
2015). Several studies have found that the presence of a companion dog reduces levels of the
stress hormone cortisol (Barker, Knisely, Barker, Cobb, & Schubert, 2012; Holt-Lunstad et al.,
2008). Finally, companion dogs have also been found to lower heart rate and blood pressure,
which can increase feelings of wellbeing and calmness (Vormbrock & Grossberg, 1988).
Colarelli et al.
85 Anthrozoös
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However, this was not supported in our studies. This may be because dogs tend to lower
heart rate and blood pressure when an individual is petting his or her own dog for at least
3 minutes (Baun, Bergstrom, Langston, & Thoma, 1984).
Practical Implications
A companion dog may be an effective intervention for increasing prosocial behavior in small
groups. Unlike many interventions, which occur only periodically and outside of the normal
work environment, the presence of a companion dog can be continuous. In addition,
companion dogs at work require minimal effort and maintenance—except for the occasional
treat, walk, and bowl of water. Companion dogs in work or educational settings may offer
other benefits. For example, taking a dog out for a walk enables people to get some exercise
during the day and be exposed to direct sunlight.
Of course there are practical considerations involved with including companion dogs in
work or educational settings. For a dog to influence cooperative behavior within groups, it
should be visible to and within petting distance of group members as they interact. Some
might be concerned that a dog could wander through a workplace and frighten individuals with
phobias or cause discomfort to those with allergies. Such potential problems are less likely to
occur if dog-friendly policies are developed. For example, organizations might require that
dogs be put on probation before becoming an official office companion and that they be kept
in owners’ offices.
Overall, the findings of these studies provide evidence that companion dogs can improve
prosocial behavior in work groups. Additional studies could provide a fuller understanding of
the causal mechanisms by which dogs influence prosocial behavior. Practically, our results
suggest that organizations may benefit by allowing our furry friends to come to work.
Acknowledgements
We thank Lindred Greer, Lisa Severing, and Emmy VanEsch for reading and commenting on ear-
lier versions of the manuscript. Emmy VanEsch also assisted with the data analysis. We are par-
ticularly grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback. Thanks are also due to
the graduate and undergraduate research assistants who helped us with this study. Stephen
Colarelli is grateful to the department of management at Hong Kong Baptist University, where he
was a visiting professor while the manuscript was being revised. This research was funded, in part,
by a Faculty Research and Creative Endeavors grant from Central Michigan University.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors state that there are no conflicts of interest.
Notes
1. Most estimates suggest that the dog was first domesticated about 15,000 years ago; other scholars, how-
ever, estimate that the dog was domesticated much earlier, as far back as 100,000 years (Vilà et al., 1997).
2. Dogs evolved from wolves (Canis lupus), which are cooperative hunters, so it is likely that dogs retained
some of the wolf’s instinct for cooperative hunting. Dogs prefer cooperative to non-cooperative humans
(Freidin, Putrino, D’Orazio, & Bentosela, 2013).
3. Video recordings from seven groups (28 participants) were rendered unusable because of a computer hard
drive malfunction, leaving usable video data for 92 participants, 46 in each condition. Physiological and
self-report measures were available for all 120 participants.
4. For a more in-depth review of thin-slice methodology, see Ambady and Rosenthal (1993).
A Companion Dog Increases Prosocial Behavior in Work Groups
86 Anthrozoös
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Appendix 1. Behavioral rating scales.
Behavior
Category Definition Example Behaviors Rating Samples
Cooperation
Verbal Cohesion
Verbal Intimacy
Physical Intimacy
Colarelli et al.
89 Anthrozoös
Any physical or verbal
behavior where an
individual provides
support to other
individuals in the
group either through
physical gestures or
by supporting or
encouraging
statements or ideas.
Offering to do things
for the group (e.g.,
writing for the group).
Helping another group
member in any way,
talking about group
success.
1 = Not at all
Does not offer to do anything for the
group
Does not help the group out in any way
5 = Very frequently
Very frequently offers to do anything for
the group
Very frequently helps the group out in
any way
Any verbal interaction
between one team
member and another
related to creating or
increasing bonding or
closeness.
Giving a compliment.
Talking about a topic
they agree upon, such
as a favorite sports
team or favorite
professor, etc.
1 = Not at all
Does not give compliments or respond
cordially to compliments given
Does not strike up conversation about
mutual topics of interest
5 = Very frequently
Very frequently gives or responds to
compliments
Very frequently strikes up conversations
with other members about mutual
topics of interest
Any verbal behavior
where an individual
makes himself or her-
self vulnerable to oth-
ers in a manner that
indicates an increase
in trust between group
members.
Talking about self in
self- disclosing manner
(not in a bragging way
but in a self-enhancing
way).
Talking about one’s
feelings, sensitivities,
weaknesses.
1 = Not at all
Does not talk about self in a self-
disclosing manner
Does not talk about feelings, sensitivities,
and/or weaknesses
5 = Very frequently
Very frequently talks about self in a self-
disclosing manner
Very frequently talks about feelings,
sensitivities, and/or weaknesses
Physical interactions
that reflect an individ-
ual group member’s
attempt to create or
increase closeness
and bonding between
members.
Eye contact
Leans/moves body
position in a comfort-
able (relaxed) way to-
ward others when
interacting.
1 = Not at all
No eye contact
Does not lean/move body position
comfortably toward others when
interacting
5 = Very frequently
Very frequently makes eye contact with
other group members
Moves/leans body comfortably toward
other a great deal during interactions
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Despite growing attention for how disabled people become Othered in organizational settings and similar scholarly interest in the treatment of non-humans at work, no analysis so far has focused on the potential double marginalization that takes place when disabled people go to work with their service animal. In filling this void, this study draws attention to the embodied entanglement of ‘humanimal’ in a number of organizations where animals are unexpected. The study argues that the spatial, discursive and affective treatment of service dogs operates as a proxy for the in/exclusion of employees with mobility and visual impairments. This way, processes of ableism become masked as subtle and indirect performances towards non-human Others. Contributions are made towards several literatures by introducing the idea of a ‘proxy’ to help understand the different modes of peripheral inclusion of disabled employees via their legally accepted service animals, by bringing in the role of affect in workplace disablement, and finally by taking animal labour more seriously.
... [124] wrong outcomes ClinicalTrials.gov [125] not included as trial still ongoing Colarelli et al. [126] wrong intervention Coleman et al. [127] wrong outcomes Crago et al. [128] wrong study design Crossman et al. [6] wrong study design Crossman et al. [36] wrong study design Crump et al. [21] wrong study design Daltry et al. [34] wrong study design Delgado et al. [129] wrong study design Dell et al. [130] wrong study design Dhooper et al. [131] wrong study design Dluzynski [132] wrong outcomes Duffey T [133] wrong study design Flaherty [134] wrong intervention Folse et al. [135] wrong study design Frederick [136] wrong population Frederick et al. [137] wrong population Friedmann et al. [138] wrong outcomes Gonzalez-Ramirez et al. [139] wrong outcomes Goodkind et al. [140] wrong population Gress [141] criteria for inter-library loan not met Haggerty et al [142] wrong study design Hammer et al. [143] wrong study design Hemingway et al. [144] wrong study design Henry [145] wrong intervention House et al. [146] wrong study design Ishimura et al. [147] wrong intervention Jarolmen et al. [148] wrong outcomes Johnson [149] wrong study design King [150] wrong study design Kobayashi et al. [151] wrong outcomes Kronholz et al. [152] wrong study design Kuzara et al. [153] wrong outcomes Lacoff et al. [154] wrong study design Lauriente et al. [155] wrong study design Lephart et al. [156] wrong study design Linden [157] criteria for inter-library loan not met Litwiller et al. [158] wrong study design Machova et al. [159] wrong study design Malakoff [160] wrong population Manor [161] criteria for inter-library loan not met Marino [162] wrong study design Matsuura et al. [163] wrong intervention ...
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... McNicholas and Collis (2000) found that humans are more social with strangers when a dog is present, which suggests that the presence of a dog for officer wellness may facilitate the process of seeking assistance by reducing social barriers. Colarelli et al. (2017) found that dogs in a group environment promote communication, collegiality, and cooperation, which are significant contributors to the organizational climate (Jones & James, 1979). According to Cunha et al (2019), dogs can help facilitate team building, reduce workplace stress, foster moral associations, and promote an overall more effective workforce. ...
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