Bringing human-animal interaction to sport: Potential impacts on athletic performance

Sutton Marvin, Kennet Sorenson, Jeffrey R. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

To gain an edge in performance, athletes, coaches, trainers, and sport psychologists worldwide leverage findings from psychological research to develop training and performance strategies. The field of sport psychology draws upon research on stress, anxiety, mindfulness, and team building to develop these strategies. Here, we introduce human-animal interaction as a potential area of research that may apply to athletic performance. Structured interactions with animals—particularly therapy dogs—can provide physiological benefits associated with stress and the oxytocin system, psychological benefits for anxiety and motivation, and social benefits through social support. Yet these effects have not yet been systematically investigated in athletes. Integration of human-animal interactions into athletics can occur through animal visitation programmes and resident therapy animal programmes. Integrating human-animal interactions into athletics presents some unique challenges and limitations that must be considered before implementing these programmes, and these interactions are not a panacea that will work in every situation. But, given the amount of human-animal interaction research suggesting benefits in medicine, mental health, and education contexts, it is worthwhile exploring potential benefits not just for athletic performance, but also for injury prevention and recovery. Highlights Human–animal interaction is a potential area of research that may apply to athletic performance. Structured interactions with animals can provide physiological, psychological, and social benefits to athletes, through it is not a panacea that will work in every situation. Integrating human–animal interactions into athletics presents some unique challenges and limitations that must be considered before implementing these programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • Athletic performance
  • human-animal interaction
  • oxytocin
  • performance anxiety
  • sport psychology
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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