University of New Hampshire
Mentor: Dr. Paul Tsang, Department of Molecular, Cellular, & Biomedical Sciences
Determining the effects of therapy dog interaction on a human patient's blood pressure and salivary stress hormone concentration
Animals have become an integral part of society as domesticated helpers, especially for their role in animal-assisted therapy (AAT). AAT is a form of therapy used for patients that have a variety of emotional, social, and psychological problems. Research has primarily been conducted on the psychological and psychosocial aspects of AAT, while relatively little research has focused on the physiological and biological aspects. To add more of the latter type of research to the current AAT-related literature, the research aims to expose undergraduate university students to 30 minutes of interaction with therapy dogs once a week for four weeks. Over the course of the experiment, blood pressure will be measured and saliva samples will be collected and subsequently analyzed by radioimmunoassay (RIA) to determine the concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone. Concurrently, the concentration of oxytocin—an anti-stress hormone—will be determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The general hypothesis is that there will be lower blood pressure, lower salivary cortisol concentrations, and higher oxytocin concentrations as these therapy sessions progress. Ultimately, the results obtained from the present study will not only add to existing physiological and biological-based research for AAT, but will also lead to a better understanding of the benefits of human-animal interactions.