Although fish and other aquatic species are popularly kept as private 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 a paper by Nancy R. Gee, Taylor Reed, April Whiting, Erika Friedmann, Donna Snellgrove, and Katherine A. Sloman, they tried to answer some of the questions related to it. See the citation for the paper at the bottom of this article. You can read the full paper at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6747257/.
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) an 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.
The result of the experiment was:
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.
The fact that this study demonstrated that individuals perceived benefits including a decrease in stress, elevation of mood, and increase in relaxation while viewing a tank of live fish that they did not experience with a tank with plants but no fish, or a tank with neither plants nor fish, provides a promising foundation for additional research.
The paper further says, “where the live fish function to draw the participants’ attention away from perceived stressors.” This would explain why we see enhancements in the self-report measures but do not consistently see similar effects in HR and HRV. “
So, what is our take on the paper?
As we need further study to conclusively prove whether fish watching results in a decrease in stress, elevation of mood, and increase in relaxation, it is clear that there were self-reported perceptions of benefits by the participants, even if they are just due to distraction and engaging you in a more pleasing activity.
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This article is based on the paper with the following citation:
Gee NR, Reed T, Whiting A, Friedmann E, Snellgrove D, Sloman KA. Observing Live Fish Improves Perceptions of Mood, Relaxation and Anxiety, But Does Not Consistently Alter Heart Rate or Heart Rate Variability. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Aug 27;16(17):3113. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16173113. PMID: 31461881; PMCID: PMC6747257