Research Finds: The pet may make you happier

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that pets are an excellent boost of emotional support. Pet owners have high self-esteem, better physical fitness, and they tend to be less preoccupied, compared to those who do not keep an animal in their home. Moreover, those who add another member to the family tend to be more consistent, conscientious, and less fearful.

Researchers from the University of Miami, and the University of St. Louis, are conducting three questionnaire-based experiments, with the aim of examining the potential benefits of adding a pet to a family.

The first study was based on questionnaires distributed to 217 subjects whose average age was 31. The group surveyed answered a number of questions designed to examine whether people who own an animal in their home differ from those who do not have a pet, in terms of overall well-being and personality type. Between the two groups, a number of differences arose, but in all cases the pet owners were healthier and seemed to tend to adapt easily to new situations, compared to those who did not keep an animal in their home.

The second experiment examined 56 dog owners whose average age was 42. Subjects answered questions regarding the social benefits they derive from their pet. Subjects who testified that their dog improves a sense of belonging and self-esteem were found to experience greater overall happiness.

The third experiment examined a group of young people whose average age is 19. Subjects were asked to write about a social case in which they felt rejected, and then they wrote about their favorite animal. The study found that writing about the animal they prefer was as effective as writing about a case in which a friend defended them in a situation of social conflict. The results of the experiment show that having a pet at home helps to improve feelings of rejection and loneliness.

Unlike past studies that focused on the benefits that come with keeping an animal by people facing various health challenges, current studies have shown positive changes among “normal” people who do not suffer from significant health problems and own a pet. It seems that the addition of another member of the family, contributes both to physical and mental health and plays an important role when it comes to social support, according to the researchers.