Highly emotional people gravitate to cats for stress relief programs

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Cats are often excluded from animal-assisted university activities aimed at reducing stress, but new research shows that many people, especially those with strong and highly reactive emotions, desire and benefit from interacting with cats.

Universities that implement animal-assisted events, such as Pet Your Stress Away events. proven benefits, but more than 85% of them involve only dogs, according to the researchers. A new article has been published in the magazine Antrozoyos found a high level of interest in the addition cats to the mixture.

The study found that several factors shaped the positive response to the cat visiting program and showed that the personality trait of emotionality played an important role. Emotionality, part of an established model of psychology called the Big Five personality traitsindicates that the person has strong emotions and reacts strongly to them.

“Emotionality is a fairly stable trait; it doesn’t fluctuate and is a fairly constant feature of our personalities,” said co-author Patricia Pendry, a professor in the Department of Human Development at Washington State University. “We found that people higher on this scale were significantly more interested in interacting with cats on campus. Given that previous research has shown that such people may be more open to forming strong attachments to animals, it makes sense that they would want cats to be included in these programs.”

Pendry and lead author Johnny Delanoage of KU Leuven in Belgium investigated the level of interest in adding cats to the intervention, and how human characteristics might influence that interest. The researchers also examined whether university staff, who are typically excluded from such programs, would be interested in participating.

“We’ve always been told that cat people are different from dog people and that most students aren’t interested in interacting with cats,” Pendry said. “Our results showed that students are interested in interacting with cats and that this interest may be driven by personality traits.”

Researchers interviewed more than 1,400 people university students and newspaper staff from more than 20 universities.

The relationship between personality and openness to interacting with cats was significant even after accounting for openness to a dog-visiting program, presence of a cat owner, and self-identification as a woman. The researchers also took into account negative influences, such as having a cat allergy or cat phobia, which logically reduced participants’ interest in interacting with felines.

Pendry said one of the reasons university interventions tend to focus on dogs is the large number of canine therapy animals available and the general perception that cats may not be suitable for therapeutic roles.

“There’s a perception that dogs exist to please people,” said Pendry, who is a cat and dog person. “While I may describe cats as ‘discerning’, they are often perceived as unpredictable, aloof or picky – traits that some find difficult to be around.”

In previous studies, the results of which were not broken down into different animal species, Pendry said it was easy to tell the difference between cat people and dog people.

“Some people came and immediately went after the cats and others after the dogs,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were interested in interacting with cats, which made me want to learn more about why they made that choice.”

The researchers included faculty and staff in addition to students and found no differences between the groups.

“We believe that the student population is unique, and in several ways it is,” Delanoagey said. “But when we looked at university staff, the results were very similar: personality mattered more than being a student or staff member. This suggests that it would be interesting to conduct interventions with animals in non-university settings and other workplaces.”

Having the option to interact with a cat, a dog, or both can increase the number of people interested in attending an animal-assisted event intervention, which has been shown to reduce stress and improve people’s well-being. This is the whole business of scientists.

“Our research suggests that we may be able to reach a wider audience by offering an intervention that includes dogs and cats. People who are higher on the emotional trait may be more likely to participate and benefit from these interactions,” Pendry said. . “We’re looking for ways to help more people reduce their stress levels. Adding cats could be another way to reach a wider audience.”


Research shows stress-reducing benefits of petting dogs and cats


Additional information:
Johnny Delanoage et al., University Cats? Predictors of staff and student responses to campus cat visits, Antrozoyos (2022). DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2022.2109290

Citation: Highly Emotional People Drawn to Cats for Stress Relief Programs (2022, October 25) Retrieved October 25, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-highly-emotional-people-drawn-cats. html

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