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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
DUNN, R. L., &EVERLY, J. D. (2000). Pet Fish and Stress Reduction Among College Students. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

Pet Fish and Stress Reduction Among College Students

Sponsored by: PHIL WANN (wann@missouriwestern.edu)
The use of fish for reducing stress among college students was examined. Watching and taking care of the pet was predicted to reduce overall perceived stress. Stress level was measured before, and after the experiment using the Global Measurement of Perceived Stress. No significant results were found. However, insight was made to the further implications of this type of research.

Due to an apparent increase of awareness regarding stress and the affects, it has on health; stress management techniques are gaining attention. Stress is a state of anxiety that can cause symptoms such as insomnia, high-blood pressure, digestive problems, or minor problems such as headaches, nausea, or irritability. One of many ways to reduce stress is by use of pets. Because the students at this campus are not allowed most types of animals, fish were chosen. The reviewed research showed evidence that pets help to reduce stress. A study done in Australia suggested indications that health care cost could be reduce if the benefits of pet ownership were made more clear (Headey, 1999). In the area of pet assisted therapy with elderly patients; those that own pets did not have as many doctor contacts as the non-pet owners did (Siegel, 1990). According to Barker and Dawson, "The reduction in anxiety scores for patients with psychiatric disorders was twice as great after animal assisted therapy (1998, p. 797)". This relationship is evident within the context of self-care children. As women have become more involved in the labor force, their children are left to watch themselves. A study involving the use of pets with self-care children revealed reduction in the negative consequences (Heath & McKenry, 1998). Most of the researched studies used the more physically interactive pets such as cats or dogs. There are acknowledgements toward the use of less physically interactive pets such as fish. A study of aquarium owners revealed a decrease in psycho-physiological anxiety during mild to moderately stressful situations (Wilson, 1991). "...the major motivations is the reported calming, relaxing, stress-reducing effects of watching fish, and this study`s respondents maintained that watching their fish did seem to reduce anxieties and create feeling of serenity (Kidd & Kidd, 1999)". It was this sensation that we wished to create for our live fish subjects.The purpose of this study was to determine whether there is a relationship between interacting with a fish on a daily basis and stress reduction among college students. Therefore, we examined whether interacting with a fish on a daily basis reduced perceived stress.


Twenty college students who live on campus were obtained by asking for volunteers in an intermediate psychology class.

The equipment included ten live fish, ten fake fish, fish food, 20 small bowl aquariums, and chlorine drops. Subjects were asked to fill out questionnaires consisting of four questions for rating experiences and two separate stress scales (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein,1983).

The subjects were obtained by visiting an intermediate psychology class at Missouri Western State College. The names were drawn out of a hat to determine whether the student would be in the control or experimental groups. Each student that participated in this study was contacted by e-mail or telephone and a time was set-up for them to take the first stress assessment and receive either their fish. The students not receiving a live fish were given a similar bowl with rocks in the bottom. Inside the bowl was filled with water and a plastic fish was tied to a weight and put inside. These fish and bowls were the same as the others only they contained fake blue fish while the others contained live goldfish. Each participant who was given a live fish was required to sign intent to feed it and to name it. All the participants kept their fish for eight to ten days and then given the second version of the stress scale. The second scale was the same as the first with the exception of the time frame. In the first scale, the participants were asked questions regarding the way they felt within the last month. The second scale asked the participants the same questions, only pertaining to the past week. At this point, the experiment was complete and the participants had the option of keeping the fish.

To determine a change in stress, the difference of scores was found by subtracting the posttest scores from the pretest scores. Both groups` overall stress rating decreased (see graph). The mean difference scores for the posttest and pretest was -1.15. A test comparing the live fish group to the fake fish group indicated there was no significant difference, t(19) = -1.16, n.s. When the effect size was calculated from this t value, it was found to be r = .350, which is considered a small to modest effect size. Comparison of the pretest scores showed no difference between the groups, t(18) = -1.25, n.s., post; t(18) = .93 n.s. A repeated measures ANOVA with pre and posttest as within subjects variable revealed non-significant results as well: pretest verses posttest; F(1,18) = 2.50, p>.05, n.s., test by group; F(1,18) = .23, n.s., between subjects effects; F(1,18) = 1.52, n.s.

Unfortunately, the results did not support our hypothesis that caring for a live fish would reduce the stress level among college students. There are several points that can contribute as to why this occurred as well as suggestions to keep it from occurring again. One main point that needs to be made is that this study was conducted directly before spring break, which means midterms for all college students. Through years of personal experience, we have found that this is usually a more stressful time of the semester. However, the second scale was taken three to four days before the break. This is an interesting observation because it was thought that even with the live fish the stress levels would raise, only not as high. Instead, both groups` scores decreased from the first scale. One way this could have been controlled for was to have a group in which the students received neither a live nor a fake fish. In the questionnaire containing the four questions, most of the students reported being attached to their fish, fake or real. Also, the students used in this study were told that they would be given extra credit for their intermediate psychology class for participating. This may have caused the students not to take the matter very seriously, which in turn led them to put very little effort into the surveys. This could also have been effected by the approaching spring break; the stress that was present may have been lifting due to the knowledge of the upcoming break. For further research, a different scale might prove to be a better measure of stress that would be more specific to areas such as relaxation or calming effects. The scale questions used in this study were very vague and only hit on general topics. In conclusion, the results of this experiment were not significant. However, further study would be useful. If it is found that fish reduce stress among college students living on campus it could be used to help reduce drop out rates and withdraws, which tend to be a concern for higher education institutions. One suggestion for those interested in using fish for a long amount of time: do not use goldfish. We had several fatalities during this experiment.

Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety rating of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric Services, 49, 797-801. Collis, G. M., & McNicholas, J. (1998). Companion animals n human health. Wilson, C. C., & Turner, D. C. (Ed.), A theoretical basis for health benefits of pet ownership (pp. 105-122). Sage Publications. Headey, B. (1999). Health benefits and health cost savings due to pets: Preliminary estimates from an Australian national survey. Social Indicators Research, 47, 233-243. Heath, T. D., & McKenry, P. C. (1989), Potential benefits of companion animals for self-care children. Childhood Education, 65, 311-314. Kidd, A. H. & Kidd, R. M. (1999). Benefits, problems, and characteristics of home aquarium owners. Psychological Reports, 84, 998-1004. Siegel, J. M. (1990). Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1081-1086. Wilson, C. C. (1991). The pet as an anxiolytic intervention. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 179, 482-489.


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Last Edited 3/28/00 1:32:56 PM
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