You’ve probably heard that petting an animal reduces stress. If you’re lucky, you’ve even experienced it firsthand. And if you have the pleasure of consistently getting some hands-on time with a furry companion (or even a pal’s pet), you may not always notice it, but you probably do have less cortisol in your system.
How does petting an animal reduce stress?
One of the most oft-cited studies about the animals reducing our stress comes from a study in the journal of the American Educational Research Assocation (AERA). It was a rigorous study that controlled for multiple other factors, such as overall health of the subjects. And it found that just 10 minutes of petting a cat or dog (many of which happened to come from a shelter and probably benefitted from some socialization) results in measurably smaller levels of cortisol, the hormone that regulates our flight-or-fight response.
The research was done on college students (who often get stressed out around midterms and finals). And one of the best parts was that even brief animal encounters could help reduce stress levels.
The researchers didn’t find the same effect when students viewed photos of pets or saw them in person – the real benefits came from physical contact.
Details of the study
The researchers collected saliva samples from 249 college students who participated in one of four types of animal encounters. (Cortisol levels can be measured using saliva.)
- 73 students got to pet the cats and dogs
- 62 watched other people pet the animals
- 57 watched a slideshow of images of the same animals
- 57 remained on the waitlist
Saliva samples were collected first thing in the morning and then two more samples were collected 15 and 25 minutes after the animal encounter.
Students with hands-on animal interactions had the lowest cortisol levels, though it didn’t necessarily last throughout the day. Still, even momentary stress relief can help regulate stress.
The researchers hope the knowledge that petting animals reduces stress will help colleges (and others) help people regulate stress before it causes more serious physical and psychological disorders. — WTF fun facts