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Harvard Forest Research Project 2022

  • Title: Wildlife and Wellbeing: An Animal-Assisted Intervention for Veterans with PTSD
  • Principal investigator: Donna Perry (
  • Institution: University of Massachusetts - Medical School Worcester
  • Primary contact: Donna Perry (
  • Team members:
  • Abstract:

    Human-animal interactions (HAI) have shown positive health benefits within a variety of populations. One of the promising areas of HAI is for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). U.S. veterans returning from their duties in Iraq and Afghanistan face a high prevalence of this debilitating condition. However, there is need for a stronger evidence base to support this promising modality. The majority of HAI research has been done with domesticated animals. This study will explore a novel approach using a series of animal-assisted activities with wildlife for veterans who have suffered trauma as part of their military duty. The specific aims are to explore a series of wildlife animal-assisted interventions (observation, wildlife rehabilitation and bird feeding/watching) with 50 veterans who have PTSD/ PTSD symptoms in order to:
    1. Determine the feasibility, safety and acceptability of the interventions to ensure adequacy of each intervention for a larger RCT. Outcomes will be measured by recruitment and retention, rate of adverse events, activity surveys and focus groups.
    2. Obtain preliminary estimates of the wildlife AAI on physiologic and psychological well-being and assess relative efficacy of the three interventions. Outcomes will be measured by the PCL-5, Warwick-Edinburgh Mental-Well Being Scale, Speilberger State/Trait Anxiety Inventory and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D-10) scale. Physiologic measures include heart rate variability and salivary cortisol.
    3. Obtain preliminary estimates of connectedness to nature and wildlife through the short-form Nature-Relatedness (NR-6) and Human-Wildlife Bridging Feelings Scale.

    We will use a repeated-measures mixed method crossover design in which each participant engages in a series of activities. The first activity will be an introductory forest immersion/ walk in the Harvard Forest to control for effects of nature alone followed by 3 wildlife immersion activities at other study sites (New England Wildlife Center; Maine Wildlife Park; Mass Audubon. Each activity will be conducted at two time points to reduce novelty effect. Veterans will be recruited through our study partner, Soldier On, located in Leeds, Massachusetts. The study has been approved by the University of Massachusetts Medical School Institutional Review Board.