While pets are often associated with a number of health benefits, a recent study shows bonding with your cats and dogs can positively impact on your social skills too.
Published in the British Journal of Psychology, the study showed that young people with an attachment to a particular animal were more likely to exhibit signs of empathy and confidence, as well as a closer connection with others than those who didn’t.
All 500 young adult participants (mainly women aged between 18 and 26) were asked questions about their attitudes and feelings towards animals. They were also assessed for positive aspects of youth development, like whether or not they were confident as well as looking for signs of depression and negative emotions.
The findings also showed that the more a participant cared for and looked after an animal, the more likely they were to get involved in certain activities, such as volunteer work and helping friends and family.
There is also a strong chance that owning a pet will increase a person’s likeliness to speak to strangers. A dog in particular can serve as a catalyst for social involvement, especially among fellow dog walkers. The study found that when someone was alone, they only spoke to on average around three strangers, compared to when they were with a dog, and spoke to about 65 strangers in the same amount of time.
Ultimately the study identified a clear correlation between owning a pet and socialising more, yet despite this no causal link was found. Only future studies looking at how the animal-human relationship develops over time will offer insight into this – especially as researchers believe it’s more about the quality of the pet-owner relationship than the quantity of time humans spend around animals.
Dr Megan Mueller – a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, U.S – is confident however that the findings pose “a promising starting point to better understanding the role of animals in our lives, especially when we are young”.
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