TitleEmotion regulation and specificity: The impact of animal-assisted interventions on classroom behavior
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsGeldhof, GJ, Flynn, E, Olsen, SG, Mueller, MK, Gandenberger, J, Witzel, DD, Morris, KN
JournalJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology
Date Published03/2021


  • The specificity principle requires us to move beyond “average” program effects.
  • The specificity principle has major implications for research and practice.
  • We illustrate these through an evaluation of animal-assisted interventions.
  • Results support the importance of specificity.
  • An observational measure was not valid for use with specific participants.

We discuss Bornstein's (2017) specificity principle as a codification of the larger systems-oriented zeitgeist currently dominant in developmental science and the implications that accommodating specificity has for applied research. We illustrate the importance of specificity by analyzing coded videos obtained as part of an evaluation of animal-assisted interventions implemented in the context of a school for children with special educational needs. At the level of the whole sample, findings indicate that students' emotion regulation improves across the pretest period and therefore indicate that student behaviors may change in anticipation of animal-assisted interventions. When analyzed at the person-specific level, the data furthermore indicated that the whole-sample findings only generalize to a subset of participants. The pattern of results suggests that the selected measure may have limited validity for assessing emotion regulation among the rest of the sample. We discuss the implications of these findings for future research and program evaluations.

Short TitleJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology