Posted on Oct 27, 2022, 5 p.m.
Having a pet can help people who are less resilient cope with the stresses of everyday life, new Kingston University research has found. When owners consider their animals to be more important than the friends in their lives, however, it can contribute to increased feelings of loneliness.
Psychology student Ece Beren Barklam, who is completing a Ph.D. in pet ownership and human-animal interactions, explored whether having a pet was linked to better mental well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study took into account owners' perceptions of their own resilience levels and how emotionally attached they were to their animals.
The research, published in the human-animal relations journal Anthrozoös, was carried out through two surveys of more than 700 people from the UK and around the world, one during the early stages of the pandemic in May 2020 and another in September 2021.
Overall, the study found pets had a mostly positive effect on the lives of their owners during the pandemic. Increased exposure to their animals -- such as taking them out for walks or playing with them more often -- was linked to better mental health, with owners who spent more time interacting with their animals during this time reporting being happier than those who did not.
The research also looked at how emotionally attached an owner was to their pet. It found that unhealthy attachments were linked to poorer mental health, whereas healthy attachments were found to improve well-being among individuals with low resilience.
"It's commonly believed pets are good for humans. While research partly supports this, I wanted to understand what role people's individual characteristics such as resilience play in the relationship between pet ownership and positive or negative mental health," the Ph.D. student said.
"Where the owner considers their pet to be more important than the people in their lives, the study found they were lonelier, unhappier, and less resilient. They also scored lower when it came to overall mental well-being. This type of attachment may reflect an unhealthy bond, where the owner treats their pet as if it has human motives and traits, which could be a kind of anthropomorphism."
Ms. Barklam's Ph.D. supervisor, associate professor in neurocognition and aesthetics Dr. Fatima Maria Felisberti, said research of this nature had an important role to play in helping understand the role pets play in people's everyday lives.
"We tend to over-simplify our view of why people have pets," Dr. Felisberti said. "Beren's research highlights the complexities involved in such relationships."
To enquire about enrolling in the second study click here.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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