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Dolphin therapy

Posted Nov 01 2005 12:00am

People with depression who spent an hour a day for two weeks in water with dolphins reported lower levels of depression than others who have spent comparable time in water without dolphins, according to a report by Christian Antonioli and Michael A. Reveley published in the British Mental Journal. The study, which was conducted in Honduras primarily with 40-year-old women, employed a single-blind design with random assignment to conditions.

Although this report will provide great encouragement to advocates of so-called holistic approaches to therapy, it will also provide multiple opportunities to discuss the potential for research to overlook the obvious. I’ll leave the detailed analysis for another day, but note in passing that factors such as (a) recruiting people for a given experience and then redirecting those in the control group to a different treatment, (b) using self-report data as the dependent variable when reporters know what therapy they are getting and even sought it, and (c) capitalizing on the temporary benefits of just about any therapy call these results into question. Furthermore, as the wonderful folks at Annals of Improbable Research have noted, this study illustrates the Gillinov Effect: Commenting on a different study, Marc Gillinov said, “I’m not surprised at all that something that makes people feel good also makes them feel less anxious, has measurable physiological effects.”

Link to an HTML version of the BMJ article by Mr. Antonioli and Mr. Reveley.

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