Research Projects

The Tufts Pets and Well-Being (TPAW) Lab is involved in a number of research projects examining the interaction between humans and animals. Currently, we are focused in two primary areas:

HAI and Social Anxiety in Adolescence

Social anxiety is one of the most critical mental health challenges facing youth, particularly during adolescence. The TPAW lab conducts research on the role of pet ownership and animal-assisted interventions in mitigating the effects of social anxiety and in supporting resilience during adolescence. Ongoing research projects are listed below:

Social Participation and Navigation Program for Adolescents with Social Anxiety (SPAN-HAI)

The goal of this project is to adapt an existing evidence-based peer coaching intervention (SPAN) with the goal of increasing social participation for use with adolescents with social anxiety. The SPAN-HAI adaptation leverages human-animal interaction through the supportive relationship of a pet companion animal to address social participation for youth with social anxiety. The SPAN-HAI study is a collaboration between the TPAW lab and the Research on Child and Adult Activity Participation (Re-CAAP) Lab (PI: Dr. Gary Bedell) in the Department of Occupational Therapy. This study is funded by the Tufts Springboard program.

Dogs and Adolescent Social Anxiety (DASA) Study

The DASA Study is testing the use of innovative physiological and activity tracking methodologies to explore the role of dogs in measuring adolescent anxiety. Phase 1 pilot data collection for the DASA Study is funded by the Society for Companion Animal Studies, and Phase 2 data collection is funded by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

We are currently seeking teenagers ages 14-17 who own a pet dog for the DASA Study. If you or your teenager are interested in participating, please contact us at TuftsPAWLab@tufts.edu.

HAI and Positive Youth Development

Human-animal interaction can provide an opportunity for developing positive social skills and fostering resilience in adolescence. Understanding how HAI fits into the developmental context for diverse children and adolescence is a key area of scholarship for TPAW.

Parental behavior, HAI, and adolescent development

The goal of this study is to longitudinally assess how youth-pet relationship quality may predict adolescent health and development, and to explore how parents influence the ways in which pets are integrated into the family system. This study is being conducted in collaboration with the Youth, Media, and Well-Being lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women, and is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHD).

Human-animal interaction and trajectories of youth development

The goal of this research is to assess the relationship between pet ownership and demographics, cultural and ethnic identity, social environment, and developmental outcomes over time through analysis of a large nationally-representative dataset. This study is funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute.

Human-animal-environment interactions as a context for youth development

Dr. Mueller serves as a collaborator on an ongoing longitudinal study of animal, horticulture, and nature-based interventions as an approach to supporting youth self-regulatory skills in special education environments. (This study is led by the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver).

For more information and to download the study’s comprehensive documentation report, click here.

How to Get Involved

Student Research Assistants: If you are a Tufts student who is interested in becoming involved with the Tufts PAW Lab, please email us at TuftsPAWLab@tufts.edu. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, we do not have any opportunities available for non-Tufts students at this time.

Prospective Students: There are currently no open positions for incoming doctoral students. Positions will be posted as they become available.

Applications are currently being accepted for the M.S. in Animals and Public Policy program (due April 1, 2021). For more information, please visit: https://grad.vet.tufts.edu/ms-animals-and-public-policy/

Media inquiries: For media inquires related to our lab’s work, please email Megan.Mueller@tufts.edu

Animal-Assisted Interventions: For more information about the Tufts Paws for People therapy animal group, please visit http://hai.tufts.edu/paws

For all other inquiries, please email us at TuftsPawLab@tufts.edu.