UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Environmental Science and Management
This week, I focused my “horse whisperer” duties on creating an experimental design for measuring the human brain response to equine interactions. After reading quite a bit of scientific literature regarding the many corners of animal intervention therapy, we found a missing link to be the study of human-animal eye contact in therapeutic settings. With this in mind, I focused my attention on creating an experimental design regarding human interactions with horses, measuring brain waves in settings both with and without eye contact, in order to see if there is a difference in brain wave responses.
All of the papers and journals that I read keyed me in on quite a few other missing pieces. Firstly, there is a lack of reporting on experimental findings that don’t result in the “desired” outcome. For example, in doing animal intervention therapy research, when there was found to be no correlation between animals and a positive emotional response, such results were often not reported. While most scientific reports are not hoping for a specific outcome, and instead aiming to support or reject a hypothesis, there is still often a “failed experiment” rhetoric around results that are not positive in the direction of one’s hypothesis. Published findings that do not support the hypothesis are integral to productive scientific endeavors, as it gives information regarding experimental designs that may have been “unsuccessful.” Scientific experiments are not only time consuming, but also expensive- all findings are important to keep other folks from recreating an unsuccessful experiment, and allows for analysis on what may work better in the future.
Secondly, because the results of therapeutic experiments are so subjective, creating a control group proves extremely difficult. A control is the group in the procedure that receives no treatment, creating a “baseline” that allows for comparison with the results of experimental groups. Creating a control group proves challenging as there is no “baseline” brain wave response, or a standardized, universal “neutral” brain state. Therefore the best option we found was for our control to be each participants’ individual baseline, measured before the procedures with horses begin to evaluate a change from each individual’s “neutral” state. This allows for the subjectivity inherent to an experiment of this kind, where it is nearly impossible to utilize a standard that can accurately apply to all participants at hand.
While we’ve arrived at some conclusions for our particular experimental design, there are still so many gaps in the research. This may prove disheartening to some, but feels very inspiring and hopeful to me that there is much to discover and build upon. If I am able to facilitate productive research with my interest in equine eye contact and the brain wave response to such that in some way bridges these gaps, or even report on findings that don’t have the “desired'' positive correlation and supported hypothesis, then I will feel I have made a productive contribution to the science at hand. I am truly excited to see where the next steps lead!
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!