Pets on Campus: Best Friend or Bad Decision?

Lauren Highfill & Miranda Goodman-Wilson

Department of Psychology - Eckerd College

This study explores the relationship between pet ownership and psychological benefits among college students. Sixty-six students either living with a pet on campus (n = 32; 16 dog owners, 16 cat owners) or not completed several assessments of stress and affective symptomatology during the first two weeks of an academic semester and again during the last two weeks. Overall there were no significant differences between students living with pets and students not living with pets on any of the measures. However, there was a significant interaction between pet ownership and stress in predicting students' somatic anxiety at Time 2. Although pet owning students reported similar levels of stress as their non-pet owning peers, this stress was not correlated with an increase to their bodily symptoms of anxiety. For the non-pet condition, however, stress and somatic anxiety were significantly, positively correlated. Overall, there was not strong quantitative support for pets reducing stress amongst college students. However, qualitative data from a pet owner questionnaire suggested that students greatly enjoy living with a pet on a college campus. Given the decidedly mixed findings, directions for future research more closely examining the impact of pet ownership on students are proposed.

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Keywords: cats, college students, dogs, pet ownership, stress
Posted in 2017, Volume 5, No. 2