THE Scholarly Web - The paws that refresh

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

May 16, 2013

“It’s that time of year - the end-of-term paper-writing and exam crunch,” writes Stephen Spong, part-time cataloguing librarian at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada, on the library’s Off the Shelf blog.

“In a nutshell, it’s a crazy, busy, stressful whirlwind of all-nighters, bleary eyes, summary writing, coffee consumption, and all-around madness before you can come up for air in several weeks’ time.”

According to the blog, a number of law schools in North America have been helping students to tackle the stress of this busy period by recruiting canine helpers.

George Mason University School of Law had ‘puppy day’, where students were able to pet, cuddle, and spend time with homeless and adoptable puppies from a shelter,” Mr Spong writes.

“Another example of law schools going to the dogs is Monty the Therapy Dog, who is available at set times at the Yale Law Library.” As a registered therapy dog, Monty can be reserved - much like a library book - to spend time with groups of up to four students in need of his expertise, the blog says.

Meanwhile, the Blog Daily Herald, run by the Brown Daily Herald newspaper at Brown University, highlights a series of “Heavy Petting” events at the Rhode Island institution. (Before you get too concerned, the university’s Health Education Facebook page explains: “This stress reduction program provides students with the opportunity to take some time away from their day to relax by petting and playing with dogs.”)

These events don’t just feature dogs, however, as the blog explains. “The University knows that there is no better cure for stress during midterms than adorable animals, so they’ll be bringing baby pigs, bunnies, and other cute fluffy creatures,” announces one post, while another brings news of “bunnies, chicks, pigs, and a goat in a diaper”. Pictures are provided.

The phenomenon is not restricted to North America. On this side of the Atlantic, students’ unions at the University of Leeds and Imperial College London have announced plans to grant their stressed students access to a petting zoo.

On his Registrarism blog, University of Nottingham registrar Paul Greatrix highlights the news that the University of Aberdeen is the latest to experiment with animal stress-busters.

He quotes from a Huffington Post article that says: “Stressed-out students at Aberdeen University in Scotland are going to be given a special room on campus to calm down with puppies during the exam period.”

Dr Greatrix describes the process as “furry therapy”, and adds: “Don’t know what it will do for National Student Survey scores, but wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be an entry in this year’s Times Higher Education Awards.”

It may all sound faintly ridiculous, but the concept of mingling with animals to improve mental strength is not without backing. A 2012 paper by researchers at the University of Hiroshima, “The Power of Kawaii” (kawaii is Japanese for “cute”), found that looking at cute images can improve concentration and mental dexterity.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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