Kids with autism and people with disabilities often find great comfort, and make great progress when they have a pet. However, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that everyday people also benefit from having a furry friend.
The hypothesis was, “human interactions often provide people with considerable social support, but can pets also fulfill one’s social needs?” And the study ultimately concluded that, “pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.”
Being a pet owner myself, I can personally attest to the joy having a dog has brought me.
Before reaching this conclusion, the study conducted three separate experiments all differently designed to challenge the hypothesis. The results, “found consistent evidence that pets represent important social relationships, conferring significant benefits to their owners.”
The first study surveyed 217 community members and found pet owners overall were found to have greater self-esteem, be more active, and be more socially outgoing than non pet owners.
“Pet owners reported receiving as much support from their pets as they did from their family members, and that people reported being closer to their pets as they were to other people. Thus, people did not turn to pets because their human social support was poor — instead, owners seem to extend their general human social competencies to their pets as well.”
The last sentence in this excerpt from the study is an important one, as it acknowledges the possibility of reverse causality, and refutes it.
The next study looked at 56 dog owners, and found owners were healthier and happier and reported their pet “fulfilled their social needs.”
The first two experiments were both correlational. And as we have discussed time and time again in class, correlation is not causation. However, this study did a third experiment in a lab to “experimentally examine the ability of pets to benefit people.”
97 pet owners were brought to a lab, and some were “induced to feel socially rejected.” Afterwards, they were either told to write about their pet, write about their best friend, or draw a map. The third group (the map drawers) were the control group.
The experiment was designed to find out “if thinking about one’s pet fends off the negativity that accompanies social isolation as effectively as thinking about one’s best friend.”
Here’s an except from the study, detailing their findings,
“The people who drew a map after experiencing social rejection felt worse at the end of the experiment than they were at the beginning of the study, showing that our social rejection manipulation was effective. However, those who wrote about their dog were just as happy as those who wrote about their best friend (both groups did not show any negative feelings, even after the rejection experience was induced).”
Essentially, what this study set out to do was put scientific reasoning behind a widely believed idea, that pets radiate happiness. I can’t imagine someone having a pet and wishing they didn’t, because they are selfless, loving creatures. Granted, they may pee in the house or eat your socks, but at the end of they day there’s a reason they’re man’s best friend.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” Josh Billings