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People and their pets: Researchers at Miami show benefits of having pets

07/14/2011

Miami University professor Allen McConnell, the Jim and Beth Lewis Endowed Professor of Psychology, and his former students are co-authors of a study that suggests pet owners are happier, healthier and better adjusted than people who don’t own pets. "Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership," is published in the online (July) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP), widely regarded as the top journal in its field. McConnell's study follows 15 years of research and is gaining national attention.

“This paper exemplifies what we do so well here at Miami,” McConnell said. “It’s an excellent example of truly collaborative work involving our graduate and undergraduate students, and I am so proud of our lab and important contributions from my student co-authors — recent alumnae Laura Stayton and Colleen Martin (both Miami '10, and currently master’s students) – and Tonya Shoda, doctoral candidate. Christina Brown, a 2009 social psychology doctoral alumna and now assistant professor of psychology at St. Louis University, is also a co-author.

The group focused on dog owners, and they noted pets increased a person’s sense of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence. The work implies people perceive their pets as being able to fulfill social needs.

“Pets represent important entities in a person’s life,” McConnell said. “The power of pet ownership comes from seeing pets as an important entity in our lives, just like any other person, and as such, pets can provide significant social support to their owners, helping owners feel socially connected.”

The study consisted of three experiments. In their first trial of 217 people, researchers found pet owners were happier, healthier and more adjusted than non-owners. Then, after surveying 56 dog owners, researchers surmised pet owners experienced a better well-being than non-owners and noted the owners credited their pooches with increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and life meaning. In the final experiment consisting of 97 undergraduate students, researchers reported that writing about their pets was as therapeutic as writing about their friends.

McConnell further states all people have a sense of belongingness, which is critical, and having pets can address those needs.

“Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll have a dog or two of my own. I understand there’s research suggesting it would make me happy and healthier,” McConnell joked.

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