The effect on anxiety of petting an animal and the underlying mechanisms of such an effect were examined by a repeated-measures, within-session experiment with 58 non-clinical participants. Participants were exposed to a stressful situation in the laboratory - the presence of a Tarantula spider, which they were told they might be asked to hold - and then randomly assigned to one of five groups: petting a rabbit, a turtle, a toy rabbit, a toy turtle or to a control group. Participants' attitudes towards animals were measured as potential moderators. State-anxiety was assessed at baseline, after the stress manipulation, and after the experimental manipulation. The main findings showed that petting an animal reduced state-anxiety. This effect could not be attributed to the petting per se, since it was observed only with animals and not with matched toys. The anxiety-reducing effect of petting an animal applied to both the soft cuddly animals and the hard-shelled ones. The anxiety-reducing effect applied to people with different attitudes towards animals and was not restricted to animal lovers. The discussion addresses possible emotional and cognitive foundations of the observed effects and their implications.
- Petting animals