Document Type

Senior Honors Project

Publication Date



Stress is a growing problem in higher education. There are a variety of physiological and psychological effects of stress that negatively impact a range of body systems. Fortunately, different interventions are gaining popularity, including animal-assisted therapies (AAT). A range of case studies demonstrates the many roles animals play in these forms of therapies and this study specifically investigated the impact an emotional support rabbit had on the physiological and psychological indicators of stress. Subjects were presented with a mild stressor, and it was hypothesized that they would exhibit fewer and less intense physiological and psychological indicators of stress when the emotional support rabbit was present versus absent. Five variables were measured and analyzed including blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, electodermal activity, and self perception of stress as indicated on a visual analog scale data. Overall, the visual analog scale data was the only statistically significant data in support of the initial hypothesis, but the blood pressure and electrodermal activity data reflected slight trends in support of the hypothesis. The heart rate and heart rate variability data was difficult to analyze since physiological changes in the body are not necessarily associated with one particular emotion. Therefore, there are some apparent benefits for humans when participating in AATs, but often the animals’ well-being is not considered. Some philosophers argue that animals do not have rights or moral standing so this would not matter, but studies have demonstrated animals’ awareness and support of each other, suggesting the opposite. If animals do have moral standing, this needs to be considered more in AATs and human-animal relationships. Policies and a focus on the importance of animal comfort are initial steps in the right direction. Fortunately, an increasing number of universities and healthcare practices are beginning to address this need for animal welfare in AATs.