Virtual Pet Therapy: A New Way to Reduce Anxiety?

It is inevitable for students to experience psychological problems, including anxiety, while in college. College campuses often offer therapeutic interventions, such as pet therapy programs, to help relieve students of these problems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, classes, doctors’ appointments, and therapy sessions have had to transition to an online setting to reduce in-person interaction. This study aimed to establish if virtual pet therapy produced the same effects on anxiety levels as in-person pet therapy, which would help determine whether it serves as an effective alternative. The state measure of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-S) was used. To measure one’s levels of situational anxiety, meaning how they feel in that moment. Participants, consisting of Westfield State University students, were asked to take the STAI-S as a pretest, participate in an eleven-minute virtual pet therapy session, and then take the STAI-S again as a posttest. Participants’ STAI-S scores were significantly lower in the posttest. This suggests that participating in a virtual pet therapy session results in decreased levels of anxiety. These results suggest that virtual pet therapy may have benefits similar to in-person therapy, providing an alternative method to reduce anxiety while in the pandemic. Future research could include a control group to help determine whether the decrease in anxiety was due to the virtual pet therapy session specifically or watching a video in general.