Conscious of the increase in stress-related illnesses across the world in recent years, the University of Leeds and Tourism Western Australia teamed up to explore the physiological and psychological impact that exposure to cute animals – including the quokka – can have on individuals.
A stress-related study
The study, undertaken by the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences involved 19 participants, including 15 students from the university who were preparing to sit an exam later that day and four staff who had declared they were feeling stressed at work. Each was invited to watch a 30-minute slide show featuring a host of images and video clips of adorable animals.
Participants’ heart rate and blood pressure were taken before and after, as well as being asked to complete an anxiety assessment prior to the session and then another once it was complete.
The findings of the study showed the heart rate of every single participant dropped after viewing the slide show. In fact, the average heart rate of all participants fell by 6.65 per cent in just 30 minutes.
The blood pressure analysis showed a similar story, with the average blood pressure across all participants dropping from 136/88 to 115/71 – a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
In addition, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory also recorded a major dip in anxiety after the images and videos of animals were viewed – with the average drop of 16 points equating to a 35 per cent decrease. In some cases, anxiety even dropped by almost 50 per cent, which can be considered as clear evidence of the stress relieving power of cute animals.
Finally, three core themes emerged from focus groups held after the session. Many of those involved said they felt more relaxed, also mentioning that the session had made them feel supported by their faculty. Some also had preferences towards certain animals, with – unsurprisingly – the quokkas proving to be a big hit.
Dr Andrea Utley, who was involved in the study, said the results provided support for the theory that animals are able to reduce stress and anxiety in humans. She added: “It would appear that images appeal but video clips are more meaningful, and I would therefore expect that physical contact would be even better. With the results as solid as they are, we’ll be rolling this relaxation method out across other departments so more students can destress ahead of their exams.”
The world’s happiest animals
Quokkas are members of the same family as wallabies and kangaroos and have been named the world’s happiest animals for their delightful toothy grins. Found only in Western Australia, these mini marsupials are best seen on Rottnest Island, a car-free paradise just a short ferry ride from Perth’s city centre.
We have always been believers in the idea that a few minutes in the company of a quokka in their natural habitat is time well spent, but now it’s official: these adorable animals are good for both body and mind. Just one more reason to visit the wonderful landscapes of Western Australia when the time is right.