Possible therapeutic mechanisms
Click here to see the table of contents






Although cognitive behaviourism was the first model offered to explain reports of therapeutic gains involving dolphins, the approach that is currently favoured in dolphin research circles, also encompasses biological explanations. These are mainly concerned with the effects on humans of the sonar that dolphins use for echolocation or navigating through the use of sound (Birch, 1998). Although these speculations require further validation, differences in behaviour displayed after a VTDE, in which no sonar is emitted, indicates that there are other components of the experience that may contribute to these effects. However the approach of using dolphins as a positive reinforcement for displaying the correct behaviour, originally used in dolphin assisted therapy, does not adequately address the findings of the present study, since the sessions were not conducted on this basis. A relaxation response, favoured by other investigators in the field (Dobbs, 1990; De Bergerac, 1998) may be a factor contributing to the behaviour changes observed, however this has received little empirical support. Monitoring physiological parameters involved in arousal, including heart rate and respiration may provide further information. A Japanese study has reported decreased anxiety following live dolphin encounters (Fujii, Ukiyo & Aoki, 1996) in healthy subjects. However this investigation encountered methodological problems and requires further validation. Although the effects of relaxation on AD/HD symptoms have been investigated (McFarland & Kosltad, 1995), controversy surrounds the hypothesised relationship. AD/HD subjects' ability to concentrate more fully in situations with few distractions (Long,1995) may also be implicated.

Concerning behaviour changes observed in the current study, positive feedback about behaviour displayed during the VRDE may have shaped participants' subsequent behaviour. Since subjects, especially those in the AD/HD group were praised by their parents and the experimenter for sitting still and taking part in the VRDE session, their self efficacy regarding impulse control and concentration may have been favourably affected and could have influenced behaviour displayed for some time thereafter.

next page


please click to return to the table of contents 


Copyright 1998 Ilanit Tof, All Rights Reserved.