Library Dissertation Showcase

Investigating the effects of an animal-assisted intervention on working-memory, executive functioning, low-level discrimination and mental-wellbeing

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

Purpose: Animal-assisted interventions can have positive and therapeutic effects on human wellbeing and cognitive functioning. However, studies often lack scientific rigour and there are a range of areas within AAI research that have not yet been explored.  Method: Due to these existing gaps in current research, this project investigated the following questions employing randomised controlled trials across 27 participants to assess effects of AAIs systematically before and after intervention, using active and no-treatment control groups. Firstly, what are the effects of AAIs on wellbeing, working-memory, executive function and low-level discrimination? Secondly, what are the effects of AAI with respect to cognitive abilities associated specifically with intact or even enhanced performance in autism such as low-level discrimination tasks? And finally, are there effects within a broader autistic phenotype, across individuals who possess higher amounts of autistic traits? Results: A mixed ANOVA of condition (Dog/Video/No treatment control) by time (pre/post intervention) showed that mean mental wellbeing scores differed significantly between pre and post-test intervals, Interaction between the improved mental wellbeing scores and experimental condition was also significant. Furthermore, planned comparison analyses identified that this effect was most prevalent within the dog-assisted intervention, followed by the video-condition but was not observed within the control group. Furthermore, the number of correct responses on the Navon task differed significantly between pre and post-test intervals. Interestingly, this effect was most prevalent within the video-condition and was not observed in either the dog-assisted condition or the control group. Conclusion: In summation, the present study has successfully contributed toward existing research, whilst additionally producing contemporary implications by demonstrating equal efficacy within a less-direct AAI medium. Furthermore, no research has identified improved low-level perceptual processing skills through a video-based animal therapy condition. However, due to the study’s small sample size and no established BAP, further research needs to explore this in future with emphasis on differing amounts of autistic-traits and subsequent effects on AAI effectivity.

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