Does research always mean lab coats and boring studies? Of course not! In January, OCU psychology department professor, Dr. Sylvia McDonald and OCU alum, Evan McDonald presented research at the 39th Annual National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology entitled “College Students Stress Can Go To The Dogs”. The research highlighted that exposure to a dog prior to taking a college exam caused a drop in blood pressure. Considering the correlation between blood pressure and stress, it was a fun way to examine a possible way to reduce stress prior to midterms and finals.
“Most college students love dogs and many miss their own dogs back home. We often talk about how students miss their families and friends, but I hear so many of them talk about missing their beloved pets. So, I thought it would be interesting to see if bringing a family pet in prior to exams would provide any benefit.” Dr. McDonald stated.
Evan McDonald, Dr. McDonald’s son, an OCU alumi ,and now a graduate student in Theoretical Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey also helped with the study. “Previous research indicated that therapy dogs were beneficial in reducing stress symptoms in a variety of situations. We wondered if any dog would do the same, not just a therapy dog. So we brought in our own family pet, Jersey, to see if it helped with stress reduction. I can tell you that Jersey always has a calming effect on me at home when I’m stressed so it just made sense to do some research. It was a lot of fun presenting our findings.”
The pair presented a poster at the conference which drew much attention. Evan commented, “We had several professors and researchers come up and discuss the poster with us. Everyone wanted to show us a picture of their own dog on their phone. Everyone who approached us was smiling and would say how much they loved their own dogs or tell us about a special animal they knew. It showed the strong bond people have with their animals. For many, they become like family. I think it makes sense that dog exposure would reduce blood pressure levels…it’s like being around your family.” Dr. McDonald was later contacted by two separate journal editors asking for the poster to be converted to aritcles for publication. The pair will be working on the article over spring break for publication. “Anytime you’re invited to publish, it’s exciting”, Dr. McDonald commented, “I’m looking forward to doing more work in this area.”