Human-Animal Interaction and Mental Health

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) is a broad term that describes a wide spectrum of relationships and interactions between animals and humans. At its centre, it recognises the concept of the Human-Animal Bond, defined as mutually beneficial relationships between animals and humans that can influence the health and wellbeing of both. The concept of the Human-Animal Bond emerged thousands of years ago, when humans first started to domesticate animals.

In recent decades, evidence on the positive impact of HAIs (for example between assistance and companion animals and their owners) on physical, psychological and social health has been steadily developing.

As part of HAIs, animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) cover an emerging therapeutic approach that has been receiving increasing attention in health research, indicating promise in a variety of areas, including neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism; ADHD), rehabilitation and dementia. AAIs are defined as interventions that ‘intentionally include or incorporate animals as part of a therapeutic or ameliorative process or milieu’. AAIs include animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE), and animal-assisted activities (AAA). AAT and AAE denote the systematic and goal-oriented inclusion of an animal in a treatment plan or education, and are directed/delivered by a health or educational professional with specialised expertise within the scope or practice of his/her profession. AAA focus more generally on the presence of an animal in a health, care or educational setting, and provide informal and opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational and therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life. They can be delivered by specially trained professionals and/or volunteers in association with animals that meet special criteria.

This research theme covers all research related to HAIs and health and wellbeing. It is a new and developing theme within MHARG that is jointly led by applied health researchers at the University of York (with a focus on mental health), and animal behaviour, cognition and welfare experts at the University of Lincoln. Our aim is to develop a comprehensive portfolio of interdisciplinary, collaborative research with a wide range of stakeholders to generate high quality evidence related to the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and underlying mechanisms of HAI in mental health populations across the life span and across health, social care and community settings. In line with the core principle that AAIs/HAIs need to benefit both humans and animals, the further development of knowledge related to animal welfare, training and selection for HAIs will be at the heart of all our research activities. 

Recent Events

  • AAI/HAI Research Networking Day - 17th July 2019

The inclusion of animals in health care, social care and educational contexts for therapeutic purposes is rapidly expanding in the UK. Despite increasing popularity and provision of animal-assisted interventions (AAIs), research on the subject in the UK is scarce.

Our 1st collaborative AAI Research Networking Day was hosted jointly by the Universities of York, Lincoln and Sheffield and brought together academics, clinicians, providers and other stakeholders with the aim to:

  • provide an overview of AAI provision and research in health and social care nationally
  • explore challenges and opportunities of AAI provision and research
  • identify research priorities
  • facilitate networking and collaborations.

It was a fantastic day, with 50 delegates from all corners of the country, and so inspiring and enjoyable. We would like to thank everyone again for making it to York and hope to see you again before too long!

Please click to see the Programme (PDF , 298kb) for the day.

Please click to view the Presentations with special permission (password protection).

Current Projects

We are in the process of developing a portfolio of collaborative projects related to HAIs across the life span and across health, social care and community settings. We will update this website in due course.  For more information, please contact: <elena.ratschen@york.ac.uk>

Upcoming Events

We are planning regular networking events; please visit this webpage regularly for updates.