Date of Award

8-2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Debora R. Baldwin, Dolly J. Young

Committee Members

Michael Olson, Gina Owens

Abstract

Anxiety and stress invoked by the second language classroom setting has the ability to cause numerous detrimental physiological changes which impair the learning process. A more natural, “immersion” type atmosphere is often desired when teaching a second language; however, this is not typically possible with college classes. Therefore, the addition of therapy dogs to college second language classes may be a beneficial solution since therapy dogs are frequently cited as having the ability to lower stress and anxiety in many different settings. Stroking and interacting with a dog may reduce many markers of stress, including blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Data were collected from 12 University of Tennessee-Knoxville Spanish and psychology students using a within-subjects design. Following baseline testing, participants were taught three Spanish phonemes either with or without a certified therapy dog present. In all three conditions, saliva samples were collected and cortisol assays performed. A group of surveys which included the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS), anxiety thermometer, Perceived Stress Scale-14 (PSS-14), Self-Esteem Scale (SES), and New General Self-Efficacy Scale (NGSES) were completed during each condition. Phonological proficiency was assessed by audio recordings made of participants reading sentences which contained the previously taught “target” phonemes. Two Spanish experts rated phonological proficiency using a Likert scale. Repeated measures ANOVAs, t-tests, and correlational analyses were conducted on all data. During the therapy dog condition, FLCAS and anxiety thermometer scores were significantly lower than in either of the other conditions. PSS-14 scores were significantly lower for both the therapy dog and baseline conditions than for the no dog condition. Self-esteem and self-efficacy were highest during the therapy dog condition, though significance was not reached for either SES or NGSES results. Cortisol results were not significant but were highest in the no dog condition. Finally, phonological results were not significant. Findings suggest that therapy dogs significantly reduce self-reported second language-specific anxiety, as well as general anxiety and general perceived stress. Further studies are suggested to assess whether therapy dogs may also significantly reduce cortisol levels and possibly improve second language phonological learning when sample sizes are larger.

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