Limited research has addressed how social support in the form of a pet can affect both sympathetic and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal reactivity in response to a psychological challenge. The present study examined the effects of social support on salivary cortisol and heart rate (HR). Forty-eight participants were randomly assigned to three different conditions (human friend, novel dog, or control). All participants completed the Trier Social Stress Test and provided cortisol, HR, and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory measures. For participants paired with a dog, overall cortisol levels were attenuated throughout the experimental procedure, and HR was attenuated during the Trier Social Stress Test. For all groups, state anxiety increased after the Trier Social Stress Test, and HR during the Trier Social Stress Test was a predictor of cortisol. These results suggest that short-term exposure to a novel dog in an unfamiliar setting can be beneficial. They also suggest a possible mechanism for the beneficial effect associated with affiliation with pets.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health