For the study - which was published in the journal AERA - 250 highly-strung college students were divided into four groups. The first group was allowed to pet cats and dogs for 10 minutes, while the second group watched on. The other two groups had no contact with the animals (despite the third group being shown a slideshow of pictures and being told they would get to play with them later in the day.) The researchers collected cortisol samples from each of the participants via their saliva throughout the day, starting in the morning before the experiment took place.”
From this, they found that the group who had the chance to pet the animals directly had significantly lower cortisol levels afterwards than their fellow students.
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and it helps them experience more positive emotions," Patricia Pendry, an associate professor working in WSU’s Department of Human Development explained in a statement. "What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting, because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health."