Research: The Effect of Brief Animal Assisted Therapy Sessions on Stress Levels in High School Students Under Psychological Strain
Awards: Somers Science Fair 2022 Participant
The American Psychological Association reports that 43% of teens, from ages thirteen to seventeen, have experienced intense stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress can manifest itself both emotionally and physically. Some instances of this manifestation are shown through panic attacks, depression, irritability, high blood pressure, headaches, chest pain, or shortness of breath. People sometimes negatively deal with stress in their lives with the aid of illicit substances, alcohol, smoking, shopping, or gambling. One positive form of prevention is animal-assisted therapy (AAT). AAT is the use of animal interaction to help patients with medical issues cope or to aid recovery. AAT has been shown to reduce blood pressure in both hypertensive and healthy patients. Currently, there are limited studies on the effect of AAT on high school students (Crossman & Kazdin, 2018). A study by Wood et al., in 2018, is a model for this present study which will focus on the stress prevention in teenagers using animal-assisted therapy. The intended methodology is to collect twenty-eight participants, with two to three animal-assisted therapy dogs and their handlers, also known as a team. Demographic data of all participants will be collected, including: age, high school level, gender, and pet ownership. Shortly after the demographic data is taken, participants will have blood pressure measured and complete the state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI) before the interaction with the team. The STAI is a self-reporting questionnaire that measures one’s anxiety levels. The participants will meet with a team, one on one, for five to seven minutes and they may interact with the dog however they feel comfortable. Directly after the interaction participants will have their blood pressure measured and complete the STAI. It is expected that the brief AAT sessions will reduce stress and decrease blood pressure in participants.