Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Debora R. Baldwin

Committee Members

Michael Olson, Gina Owens, Katherine Rowinski


Numerous physiological changes occur during periods of high stress and learning Spanish as a second language in a classroom setting may induce significant levels of academic stress. A possible solution is the use of therapy dogs in second language classes since therapy dogs are known to lower stress and improve physiological measures such as heart rate and blood pressure. Data were collected from 18 University of Tennessee-Knoxville juniors and seniors. A within subjects design required participants to listen to a short Spanish lesson during three conditions: baseline, therapy dog, and no therapy dog. In all conditions, saliva samples were collected to test for cortisol levels and three surveys (Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale, Life Orientation Test, and General Self-Efficacy Scale) were completed. Phonological learning was measured during the last two conditions. Two Spanish instructors evaluated each participant’s phonological accuracy using a 5-point Likert scale. Cortisol assays were completed with the saliva samples. Repeated measures ANOVAs and correlational analyses were performed on all data. Results were mixed and largely non-significant. Mean phonological scores were higher for the therapy dog condition but statistical significance was not achieved. Cortisol levels decreased significantly for each subsequent condition, suggesting that stress was reduced with the passage of time and acclimation to the experimental environment. FLCAS scores were lowest when the therapy dog was present, but the difference was not significant. Findings suggest that therapy dogs do appear to reduce some aspects of stress and improve phonological learning to a small extent. Further studies using measurements that may better capture the stress-relieving abilities of therapy dogs and how that reduced stress may improve second language learning are suggested.

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