Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

Walter LaMendola, Ph.D.


Adoption, Animals, Emotional Security, Social Environment, Social Robot


This study investigated the development of emotional security among 6-10 year old children who have been adopted by exposing them to an experimental condition during which they could engage with either a live dog or a robotic dog. The live dog was a certified therapy dog; the robotic dog was a FurReal® toy marketed by Hasbro as "Biscuit." Utilizing a mixed-method embedded experimental design, the experimental condition was intentionally structured to promote engagement between the participant and the dog or robot. 43 children who had been adopted from the child welfare system were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was exposed to a therapy dog (n=22), while another was exposed to the social robotic dog (n=21). The development of emotional security was targeted for measurement in this study using the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test," a test of social understanding that has been linked in the literature to oxytocin- a hormone premised to be a marker of the development of emotional security. Physiological anxiety was also measured as an indicator of emotional security using the Revised Child Manifest Anxiety Scale-2 (RCMAS-2). Both measures were administered before and after exposure to the experimental condition. A linear mixed-effect regression analysis showed that for boys only, there was a significant effect of engagement with either companion on social understanding (p<.01). Social understanding decreased as engagement increased. A second model indicated that for boys only, their history of animal cruelty had a significant effect on physiological anxiety (p<.05). If boys had an animal cruelty history, their anxiety was reduced after the exposure to either the dog or robot. Interpretations of the findings suggest that there are differences among children who have been adopted and have a history of animal cruelty that differentially influences their development of emotional security. Social work interventions designed for practice with children who have been adopted will need to assess the presence of these variations and develop appropriate treatment protocols.


Copyright is held by the author.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Kate Trujillo

File size

146 p.

File format





Social Work

Included in

Social Work Commons