A therapy-animal trend grips the United States. The San Francisco airport now deploys a pig to calm frazzled travelers. Universities nationwide bring dogs (and a donkey) onto campus to soothe students during finals. Llamas comfort hospital patients, pooches provide succor at disaster sites and horses are used to treat sex addiction.
And that duck on a plane? It might be an emotional-support animal prescribed by a mental health professional.
The trend, which has accelerated hugely since its initial stirrings a few decades ago, is underpinned by a widespread belief that interaction with animals can reduce distress — whether it happens over brief caresses at the airport or in long-term relationships at home. Certainly, the groups offering up pets think this, as do some mental health professionals. But the popular embrace of pets as furry therapists is causing growing discomfort among some researchers in the field, who say it has raced far ahead of scientific evidence.
Earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science, an introduction to a series of articles on “animal-assisted intervention” said research into its efficacy “remains in its infancy.” A recent literature review by Molly Crossman, a Yale University doctoral candidate who recently wrapped up one study involving an 8-year-old dog named Pardner, cited a “murky body of evidence” that sometimes has shown positive short-term effects, often found no effect and occasionally identified higher rates of distress.
Karin Bruillard, Washington Post, July 2, 2017
In a study of sitting and walking ability that surveyed people ages 50 to 71 across 8 to 10 years, those who tended to sit the most and move the least had more than three times the risk of difficulty walking by the end of the study, when compared to their more active counterparts.
Patti Neighmond, NPR, September 4, 2017
The tree lobster, one of the rarest insects on Earth, has lived a rather twisted life story.
Scientifically known as Dryococelus australis, this six-inch-long stick bug with a lobster-esque exoskeleton once occupied Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.
In 1918, rats escaping a capsized steamship swam ashore. The tree lobsters became rat chow. Two years later, all tree lobsters seemed to have vanished, and by 1960 they were declared extinct.
But in the latest chapter for what has also been called the Lord Howe stick insect, scientists compared the genomes of living stick bugs from a small island nearby to those of museum specimens, revealing that they are indeed the same species.
Joanna Klein, New York Times, October 6, 2017
In any given week, Ben Crotte, a behavioral health therapist at Children’s Home of Cincinnati, speaks to dozens of students in need of an outlet.
Their challenges run the adolescent gamut, from minor stress about an upcoming test to severe depression, social isolation and bullying.
Amid the flood of conversations, meetings and paperwork, the challenge for Crotte — and mental health professionals everywhere — is separating hopeless expressions of pain and suffering from crucial warning signs that suggest a student is at risk for taking their own life.
It’s a daunting, high-pressure task, which explains why Crotte was willing to add another potentially useful tool to his diagnostic kit: an app that uses an algorithm to analyze speech and determine whether someone is likely to take their own life.
It’s name: “Spreading Activation Mobile” or “SAM.”
Peter Holley, Washington Post, September 26, 2017
A new study has found a link between being in a positive mood when you’re getting your flu shot and the vaccine’s protective effect.
It’s a curious finding, and these surprising results could really help researchers looking for new ways to boost the efficacy of the seasonal flu vaccine.
Sleep, stress, physical activity, mood, and even nutrition can serve as these ‘immune modulators’, prompting researchers to look into whether these could be targeted to improve vaccine effectiveness.
But we know little about the relative importance of these factors, and, until now, no research has looked at them simultaneously.
Signe Dean, Science Alert, September 26, 2017
SHIPS spewing soot into the pristine ocean air are causing extra lightning strikes along busy maritime routes. It is a bizarre example of how human activities can change the weather.
When Joel Thornton at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues looked at records of lightning strikes between 2005 and 2016 from the World Wide Lightning Location Network, they noticed there were significantly more strikes in certain regions of the east Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, compared with the surrounding areas. Unusually, they occurred along two straight lines in the open ocean, which coincided with two of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Along these paths there were twice as many lightning strikes as in nearby areas.
Lakshmi Supriya, New Scientist, September 19, 2017