Human-animal interaction expert named national chair

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

ErdmanPULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University animal-lover and researcher is being recognized for her expertise on how humans and animals interact.

Phyllis Erdman (, an executive associate dean in the College of Education, has been named as the Human-Animal Interaction Section chairperson of the American Psychological Association.

“I hope to continue bringing clarity to the field, promoting good research, recruiting more students and finding ways for faculty across universities to mentor graduate students interested in the field,” Erdman said. “Our faculty member Lali McCubbin first told me about this section, so I owe her for helping me get involved and paving the way.”

Erdman has been involved in human-animal interaction (HAI) since her doctoral work in the 1990s and was first introduced to pet therapy dogs in a San Antonio elementary school.

Erdman-horseAt WSU she has become involved in an equine program with researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine, specifically Sue Jacobson. Erdman’s work has included PATH to Success, beginning in 2008, (http://www.
) and, beginning this year, a horsemanship program for military veterans.

“It’s a fun field for me because it is so interdisciplinary,” Erdman said. “I’ve learned about neuroscience, about how horses think, about animal welfare and animal cruelty, about veterinary curriculum, about how to help people process grief with their animals, about special needs kids and about helping veterans.”

As chair, Erdman will be vital to organizing annual APA section activities as well as facilitating communication among group leadership. One focus will be to educate people about the differences between comfort animals, service animals and therapy animals.

Most important, she said, is bringing more legitimacy to HAI by documenting its effectiveness with evidence-based research and finding ways for graduate students to do HAI research.

The section is also working on ways to provide continuing education units for clinicians and researchers.