Feline interaction particularly therapeutic for emotional humansWSU-published research validates the importance of adding cats to animal therapy programs October 26, 2022 The benefits of canine therapy may be widely understood, but how do our feline friends fit into the equation? While cats are often not included in on-site animal therapy programs aimed at reducing human stress, a new study suggests feline interactions are particularly beneficial for those with strong and highly reactive emotions. To investigate the overall interest level in including cats in these programs, researchers at Washington State University (WSU) surveyed more than 1,400 students and staff at over 20 universities. The findings point to several factors which shape a positive response to a cat visitation program, and ultimately reveal the personality trait of emotionality plays an important role in this preference. Emotionality, which is part of a well-established psychology model called the “Big Five personality traits,” indicates a person has strong emotions and is highly reactive to them, WSU reports. “Emotionality is a pretty stable trait—it doesn’t fluctuate and is a quite consistent feature of our personalities,” says the study’s co-author, Patricia Pendry, PhD, a professor in the university’s department of human development. “We found people on the higher end of that scale were significantly more interested in interacting with cats on campus. Given prior research has shown such individuals may be more open to forming strong attachments to animals, it makes sense they would want cats to be included in these programs.” The connection between an individual’s personality and their coinciding openness to interacting with cats prevailed even when researchers accounted for contributing factors, such as openness to a dog visitation program and being a cat owner, WSU reports. Negative influences, such as having a cat allergy or phobia, which logically reduced participants’ interest in interacting with felines, were also considered. “Anecdotally, we’ve always been told cat people are different from dog people, and that most students are not interested in interacting with cats,” Dr. Pendry says. “Our results revealed students are interested in interacting with cats and this interest may be driven by personality traits.” More than 85 percent of animal therapy programs held at universities only include dogs, WSU reports. This could be attributed to several factors, researchers say, including the high availability of canine therapy animals and the commonly held view that cats are unsuitable for therapy roles. Offering program participants the option of interacting with a cat, dog, or both may increase the number of people interested in partaking in animal-assisted intervention. “Our study shows we may be able to reach a larger audience by offering interventions that include dogs and cats,” Pendry says. “People who are on the higher end of the emotionality trait may be more likely to participate and benefit from these interactions. We’re looking for ways to help more people reduce their stress levels. Adding cats may be another way to reach a broader audience.” The findings have been published in Anthrozoös.