Human Animal Interaction Lab

Dr. Patricia Pendry’s research takes a biobehavioral approach towards the study of human animal interaction and human development by examining the effects of animal assisted programs in reducing the physiological ramifications of social and academic stress, with an emphasis on strengthening adaptive functioning of the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) activity in children, adolescents, and college students. While this research is broadly situated within a prevention science perspective, it is also informed by the interdisciplinary fields of human development and learning science through its emphasis on the social-psychological foundations of human development and learning, as well as on the design and evaluation of programs that enhance learning environments. Work conducted in the Human Animal Interaction lab includes basic and applied approaches and draws from literatures of child and adolescent development, animal assisted intervention and therapy, developmental psychoneuroendocrinology as well as program design, implementation, and evaluation.

Current research projects include:

PETPALS – Pets for Promotion of Academic Life Skills: Funded by MARS/WALTHAM, the PETPALS study is a randomized controlled trial examining the effects of college-based, animal-assisted stress prevention programs on human and animal participants. The main goal of this study is to examine the causal effects of infusing various levels of HAI (Human Animal Interaction) on college students’ executive functioning, motivation and learning, mental health symptomatology (anxiety, perceived stress, depression, and worry) and stress-related physiology (diurnal and momentary cortisol and alpha-amylase production). Another goal is to better understand the effects of participation in HAI programming on stress behavior of emotional support animals, and the role played by the quality of HAI on human and animal outcomes.

Pet your Stress Away Study: This randomized control trial examines the efficacy of an animal-assisted stress reduction program conducted at a college campus in the week leading up to final exams examining effects of a 10-minute session of canine and feline petting on students’ momentary emotion, perceptions of stress, and momentary cortisol levels.

Physiology and Emotion during Human Equine Interaction: This study examines the diurnal and momentary activity of adolescents’ cortisol and alpha-amylase levels and their emotional and behavioral responses to various equine facilitated learning (EFL) program activities.

Strengthening Families Program – Equine Assisted: This is a pilot project conducted by Dr. Patricia Pendry and Stephanie Roeter, doctoral candidate in Prevention Science, examining an equine-assisted version of the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), a nationally and internationally recognized, evidence-based parenting and family skills training program for high-risk and regular families. This mixed-methods project examines the design, implementation and evaluation of SFP-E, including a clinical trial on the effects of family-level, equine facilitated learning activities on the quality of family interactions and their physiological, behavioral and emotional correlates.

PATH to Success Study: This NIH-funded, experimental study includes collaborators in the College of Education and the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is testing the effects of PATH to Success, a 12-week, equine-assisted growth and learning program, on the physical and mental health of 5th-8th grade children and the physiological pathways underlying these effects.