Human- Animal Interaction to Support Well- Being at University: Experiences of Undergraduate Students in the UK

Aliya Khalid, Anne Rogers, Emily Vicary, Helen Brooks

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Abstract

In the context of increasing concerns about student mental health and the therapeutic value of companion animals for mental health, there is limited understanding of the
potential contribution of human-animal
interaction in relation to undergraduate well-being.
This study aimed to develop an in-depth
understanding of the meaning and well-being
roles
attributed to human-animal
interactions by undergraduate students in the UK. Using a qualitative
research design, semistructured interviews were conducted with 60 students aged between
18 to 23 years at a UK university of whom 39 implicated the role of companion animals
in their well-being
and were included in analysis using inductive thematic analysis. The most
commonly reported form of human-animal
interaction was contact with companion animals
who either lived with participants, their families, or other friends and acquaintances. Actual
and potential benefits of human-animal
interaction for undergraduate students included helping
students to manage a felt or experienced pressure to be independent, ameliorating loneliness
and boredom, providing connections to support networks on and off campus, imparting
emotional support during times of uncertainty and change, and directly facilitating social interaction.
Companion animals were considered an important continuation of and connection to
students’ previous lives, which helped them to manage the university transition and maintain
a positive sense of self. Barriers attributed to companion animal ownership included the lack
of practicability of caring for a companion animal while at university because of living arrangements,
financial constraints, and the time pressures associated with being an undergraduate
student. As a result, participants described alternative ways in which students could interact
with animals, which included regular and frequent service/therapy dog visitations, links to local animal shelters and zoos, and smaller companion animal presence in classrooms and in university halls. This study provides unique and tailored insight into the value of human-animal
interactions for undergraduate students’ mental well-being
and the ways in which this could be
harnessed to promote well-being.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPeople and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice
Volume4
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2021

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