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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Oxytocin levels and self-reported anxiety during interactions between humans and cows

Berget, Bente; Vas, Judit; Pedersen, Gunn; Uvnas-Moberg, Kerstin; Newberry, Ruth C.


Introduction: Positive social interactions with farm animals may have therapeutic benefits on humans by increasing brain oxytocin secretion, as inferred from circulating oxytocin levels. The aim of this observational study was to investigate acute changes in human plasma oxytocin levels and state anxiety associated with interactions with dairy cows. Methods: Data were collected from 18 healthy female nursing students who performed stroking and brushing of an unfamiliar cow for 15 min. Blood samples were drawn before entering the cowshed (T1, baseline), and after 5 (T2) and 15 (T3) min of interaction with a cow. At T1 and T3, the students filled out the Norwegian version of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-State Subscale (STAI-SS). Results: Across participants, no significant changes in average plasma oxytocin concentration were detected between time points (p>0.05). There was, however, a modest decline in the STAI-SS scores between T1 and T3 (p=0.015) and a positive correlation between the change in individual level of state anxiety between T1 and T3 and the change in OT concentration of the same individual between T2 and T3 (p = 0.045). Discussion: The results suggest that friendly social interactions with cows are beneficial in lowering state anxiety, but any relationship with release of OT into the circulation was complex and variable across individuals. The acute reduction in state anxiety lends support to the value of interacting with farm animals in the context of Green Care for people with mental health challenges.


animal-assisted intervention; cow; human-animal interaction; oxytocin; anxiety; green care

Published in

Frontiers in Psychology
2023, Volume: 14, article number: 1252463

    Sustainable Development Goals

    Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)

    Publication identifier


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