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Big bullet   Scientific basis of animal assisted therapy

The Biophilia Hypothesis: This hypothesis was developed by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson (Wilson, 1984). The Biophilia Hypothesis states that early in human history there was an evolutionary advantage in knowing about the natural world, particularly information concerning plants and animals, and that this knowledge contributed to survival. So the human brain has been shaped by evolution to pay selective attention to animals.

Therapy dog Casper helps a child relax and focus on goals

Psychiatric disorders that disturb the capacity of a person to relate to other human beings may spare that part of the brain, which mediates recognition and response to animals. So these people learn skills faster and their recovery process is speeded up when an animal is used during therapy rather than if only the therapist is present. Thus animal-assisted therapy may be the therapy of choice for autistic, hyperactive children or clients with psychiatric disorders.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law: The Yerkes-Dodson law (1908) predicts an inverted U-shaped function between arousal and performance. A certain amount of arousal can be a motivator toward change. Too little arousal has an inert affect on the client, while too much has a hyperactive affect. You want some mid-level of arousal to get the best results from a client.

Inverted U hypothesis (Yerkes-Dodson Law), 1908

The presence of the therapist in a session usually increases arousal, which then interferes with achieving therapeutic goals due to evaluation apprehension and competition. At this point the warm, playful presence of a therapy animal can be relaxing and stress reducing which counteracts the increased arousal generated by the presence of the therapist. Since the arousal is now at mid-level it may facilitate task learning and performance.

The client would be able to relax and become less anxious during therapy and this would enable him to focus on his goals, which would result in the learning and performance of new behaviors and improved self confidence and self-esteem.


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