Professor discusses animal companions’ emotional impact
February 14, 2017
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
Jake, a yellow lab, helps students de-stress at the Mount’s
Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center.
You won’t be buying them candy or flowers this Valentine’s Day,
but chances are your pets are among the greatest loves of your
According to Rae Fallon, Mount psychology professor, bonding
with animals is easy because they love us unconditionally.
“We are a compassionate people, and we want to show our love in
a way that won’t be rejected,” said Fallon. “Usually a pet will
reciprocate; a human being won’t necessarily love back. When we
give love to a domestic animal, we pretty much know they’ll love us
She pointed out that well-known psychologist Sigmund Freud
theorized that our two basic needs are love and work.
Love is “part of who we are,” said Fallon. “It’s a basic drive,
it’s a basic need for us, like food and water. We need to feel that
we are part of something besides ourselves. We need to know that we
are valuable and capable.”
In her class on the psychology of stress, Fallon teaches
students that oxytocin, the calming “hugging hormone,” is released
when humans embrace. A similar effect can be achieved by
interacting with an animal, she explained.
Research has indicated that watching, petting or talking to an
animal can lower blood pressure and heart rate, and can also reduce
mental distress and anxiety levels.
“In this world that’s overwhelmingly stressful for many of us,
interacting with an animal may be a good way to handle it,” Fallon
In what has become an end-of-the-semester tradition, trained
therapy dogs are invited to the Mount library to give students,
staff and faculty a chance to take a break.
Like all aspects of life, too much of a good thing – in this
case, love of one’s pets – can be harmful, warns Fallon.
“Whether it’s an animal or another human being, anything where
one is willing to give up his or her personhood is not healthy,”
said Fallon. “We must take care of the other important things as
well, like relationships with other people.”
The cliché rings true, notes the psychology professor:
“Moderation is the key. The ancient Greeks had it right.”
Psychology is a popular field among Mount Saint Mary College
students. The study of psychology educates about oneself and
others, and helps establish careers in many areas, including
counseling, social work, education, health professions and police