The effects of interacting with fish in aquariums on human health and well-being: a systematic review

Heather Clements*, Stephanie Valentin, Nicholas Jenkins, Jean Rankin, Julien S. Baker, Nancy Gee, Donna Snellgrove, Katherine Sloman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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Most research into the health benefits of human-animal interaction has focused on species that interact physically with humans, such as dogs. This may be unsuitable for certain populations for reasons including accessibility and the risk of negative consequences to both the person and the animal. However, some research has associated viewing fish in aquariums with positive well-being outcomes; as there is no physical contact with the animal, this form of interaction carries less risk. At present, little is known about the specific benefits of human-fish interaction.

To explore current evidence relating to the psychological and physiological benefits of interacting with fish in aquariums.

Systematic searches were conducted to identify relevant primary research of any design. All forms of interaction were considered, including pet fish ownership and fish aquarium-based interventions. “Non-live” alternatives, such as videos, were also considered. This review was conducted according to a registered protocol (PROSPERO ID: CRD42018090466).

Seventeen studies were included. Two relating to pet fish ownership provided tentative evidence that keeping home aquaria is associated with relaxation. The remaining studies involved novel interactions with fish in home or public aquariums. Outcomes relating to anxiety, relaxation and/or physiological stress were commonly assessed; evidence was mixed with both positive and null findings. Preliminary support was found for effects on mood, pain, nutritional intake and body weight, but not loneliness. All studies had methodological issues and risk of bias was either high or unclear.

Review findings suggest that interacting with fish in aquariums has the potential to benefit human well-being, although research on this topic is currently limited. Future research should aim to address gaps in the evidence, such as whether and how the type of human-fish interaction can influence well-being outcomes. Researchers should also aim to address the methodological concerns highlighted in this review.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0220524
Number of pages36
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2019


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