Observing live fish improves perceptions of mood, relaxation and anxiety, but does not consistently alter heart rate or heart rate variability

Nancy R. Gee, Taylor Reed, April Whiting, Erika Friedmann, Donna Snellgrove, Katherine A. Sloman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)
85 Downloads (Pure)


Although fish and other aquatic species are popular privately-kept pets, little is known about the effects of watching live fish on the perceptions of arousal and the link between those perceptions and physiological measures of arousal. In two separate experiments, participants were asked to watch identically-equipped fish tanks for five minutes in each of three conditions: (1) Live fish, (2) plants and water, and (3) empty tank. Linear mixed models used across both experiments revealed similar results: Greater perceptions of relaxation and mood, and less anxiety during or after viewing the live fish condition, compared with the other conditions. Heart rate and heart rate variability responded to the arousal associated with a math task, but did not differ consistently across viewing conditions. These results suggest that the link between perceptions of arousal, and the physiological measures associated with arousal, may not be strong or immediate, or that heart rate and heart rate variability may not be appropriate measures for the test population. Implications of these results for the biophilia hypothesis and the biopsychosocial model are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3113
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2019


  • Human-animal interactions
  • Health benefits of companion animals
  • Psychological benefits of aquarium fish

Cite this