To reach this conclusion, they carried out two experiments. In the first, they brought together 12 groups of four individuals and told each group to come up with a 15-second advertisement for a made-up product. Everyone was asked to contribute ideas for the ad, but ultimately the group had to decide on only one. . . . Some of the groups had a dog underfoot throughout, while the others had none. After the task, all the volunteers had to answer a questionnaire on how they felt about working with the other—human—members of the team. Mr Honts found that those who had had a dog to slobber and pounce on them ranked their team-mates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who had not.
In the other experiment, which used 13 groups, the researchers explored how the presence of an animal altered players’ behaviour in a game known as the prisoner’s dilemma. In the version of this game played by the volunteers, all four members of each group had been “charged” with a crime. Individually, they could choose (without being able to talk to the others) either to snitch on their team-mates or to stand by them. Each individual’s decision affected the outcomes for the other three as well as for himself in a way that was explained in advance. The lightest putative sentence would be given to someone who chose to snitch while the other three did not; the heaviest penalty would be borne by a lone non-snitch. The second-best outcome came when all four decided not to snitch. . . . Having a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.