People often say the dogs are "man's best friend," and researchers now have evidence that owning a pet does indeed have the same psychological benefits as having human friends. According to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pets offer the same emotional benefits as human friendship.
- In the first experiment included in the study, researchers at Miami University and St. Louis University administered questionnaires to 217 people looking at variables such as depression, loneliness, illness, self-esteem and activity-levels. What they found was that participants with pets scored better on all measures and tended to have higher self-esteem and less loneliness.
- In a second experiment, researchers looked at whether dog owners experienced greater benefits when their pet were seen as fulfilling their social needs. The authors write, "...to the extent that their dogs fulfilled needs related to belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control, owners enjoyed a range of better outcomes (i.e., less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, greater happiness, and less perceived stress)."
- In the final experiment, researchers had students write about an experience in which they felt socially alienated or rejected. The researchers found that writing passages about pets was just as likely to alleviate feelings of exclusion as writing passages about human friends.
"We repeatedly observed evidence that people who enjoyed greater benefits from their pets also were closer to other important people in their lives and received more support from them, not less," the study suggests.
Today, 62 percent of all U.S. households have at least one pet. Previous research has shown that pets can have a number of important health benefits such as alleviating stress and minimizing loneliness. In one study, a third of participants reported that they felt that their pets were better "listeners" than their own spouses.
Learn more about this study:
- Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership (in PDF format)
Photo by TJ Nuckolls