In the short video at the link below, Dr. Lynette Hart of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine discusses how companion animals positively influence human behavior and activity.
Companion animals have a calming influence on people. You can see this when you bring an animal into a classroom – the children immediately lower their noise level. A similar phenomenon can be seen with groups of Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home setting.
The result is that companion animals can be used tactically to create better learning environments in classrooms, and to improve the general atmosphere for residents of assisted living facilities.
The calming effect of animals also has a more general application as protection against loneliness, depression and anxiety in people whose circumstances make them vulnerable to those emotions.
Psychotherapists who use animals in their treatment rooms report more productive sessions with tense, anxious patients. These patients become calm and relaxed when an animal is brought into the room during their session.
The psychoanalytic theory behind the calming influence of companion animals is self-psychology and refers to animals as self objects. One of the functions of a self object is to mirror the “self” in a very positive, reflective way – similar to how a warm, accepting mother reflects back to her children they are wonderful people. This is how children learn who they are – by the way the world responds to them.
Companion animals have the ability to reflect back to you that very positive, accepting response, letting you know you’re a special person. It is this mirroring that may account for the tremendously calming effect of animals.
Research also shows that people are simply more sociable – more relaxed and accepting of others -- when an animal is present.
Companion animals also motivate their owners to participate in more activities, and in the case of dogs, to get regular exercise.