How Biden’s Canine May Make the Oval Workplace a Office With Much less Stress and Higher Resolution-Making
By Ellen Furlong, Illinois Wesleyan University
On January 24th, the White House welcomed two new residents: Champ and Major, the newly minted first dogs in the United States. The first dogs are ready to offer special benefits to the White House workers.
Ever since they stepped into the political limelight, the Champ and Major have achieved celebrity status, making news when then-elected President Joe Biden broke his foot playing with Major and blunted while campaigning for Biden. The dogs even share a Twitter account with photos and press releases for dogs. Major, the first protection dog to live in the White House, wowed so many people that the Delaware Humane Association, from which Major was adopted, held an indoguration ceremony for him.
Pets in the Oval Office have long fascinated many on both sides of the aisle. George HW Bush’s Springer Spaniel, Millie, “wrote” a book about life in the White House that charmed many readers – and even sold her Presidential Guardian autobiography. More recently, Buddy Clinton, Barney and Miss Beazley Bush as well as Bo and Sunny Obama have fascinated the American public while roaming the halls of the White House.
As a dog lover, I also enjoy seeing the presidents’ dogs run down the corridors of the White House, fly off Air Force One, or fight with their guardians. But as a psychologist studying dog cognition and behavior, I have to add a key point: dogs have a lot more to offer than feel good stories and cute photo ops. A growing area of research suggests that dogs can provide real benefits not only to their daily companions, but also to those in their orbit.
These benefits explain why many workplaces – from Amazon to Zygna – have started welcoming dogs into their offices. Recent research suggests that dogs in the workplace can lead to increased worker engagement, lower turnover, higher job satisfaction, and even better cohesion and communication among employees.
The Oval Office, the place of major decisions, tremendous stress and complex social dynamics, can benefit even more from dogs than typical workplaces. Finally, stress can affect decision-making and problem-solving skills. However, pets can reduce stress, dampen these effects, and improve performance on difficult tasks.
Not only do people report feeling less stressful at work in dogs, but their bodies support that claim too. A growing area of research suggests that when people hang out with dogs, human heart rates are slow, levels of the stress hormone cortisol decrease, and blood pressure decreases. Interestingly, the positive effects of puppies on stress levels exceed even that of a close friend or family member: a dog reduces your stress levels more than your spouse or best friend. After all, dogs are naturally inclined to love you unconditionally and will never find fault with the way you sip your soup.
Dogs can reduce stress because they provide social support. You may feel supported by your pooch, partly due to the oxytocin feedback loop between humans and dogs. Oxytocin, a hormone that is involved in promoting social bonds, is released in both dogs and humans when they look into each other’s eyes.
People report improved mood, increased happiness, and higher energy levels in dogs. And on the other hand, they enjoy a reduced feeling of depression, loneliness, and negativity when dogs are around.
Given the ability of dogs to provide this support and improve mood, you may not be surprised that they use their magic not just one-on-one but in group settings as well. In the presence of a dog, people in groups have better social interactions, have more conversations, and are more likely to make long-term friends.
The effects of dogs as a social lubricant can go further: dogs even encourage the development of social support networks among their humans, leading to a sense of community and more social interactions among people around them. These engagements offer opportunities for even more social support in high stress environments. And perhaps most importantly, people are more likely to offer help when a dog is around.
Having Champ and Major in the White House can help President Biden and his staff cope with the pressures and tensions of the current political landscape. Aside from “indogurations”, tweets and cute photo opportunities, the Champ and Major in the Oval Office offer physical, psychological and social benefits.
In short, pets (yes, cats too!) Improve the quality of life in almost all contexts – including those of the President. Or perhaps they can play a small role in uniting a divided country. Personal politics aside, isn’t it comforting to know that paws are going to be rattling again in the White House?
[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]
Ellen Furlong, Associate Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University in Illinois
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.