A new study has suggested that pets are good sources of social and emotional support for everyone, not just people facing health challenges.
It also dismissed the notion that people's relationships with their pets came at the price of their ties with other humans.
Psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called ‘everyday people’.
“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio.
“Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners,” he added.
Researchers studied three different groups, both pet owners and non-owners. The group was 79 percent female, with a median age of 31 and median household income of 77,000 dollars a year.
"The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support", the study says, noting that previous research had "focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges".
In the first study, the researchers surveyed 217 people, whose average age was 31 and mean income 77,000 dollars annually. Seventy nine percent were women. They found that pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.
The researchers then studied 56 dog owners (91 percent of whom were women, with a mean age of 42 and average annual family income of 65,000 dollars) and found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.
They then asked 96 pet owners who were undergraduates to remember and write about a time they were excluded. They were then asked to either write about their favorite pet, their favorite friend or to draw a map of their college campus. The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.
“The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support,” said the researchers.
“Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges … the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets,” they concluded.
The findings are reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.