Posted on February 19, 2013 · Posted in Brain Injury

New research has found that pets not only provide social and emotional support for those with disabilities, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), but also for the so-called average Joe.

At least that was the finding of a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and online by the American Psychological Association (APA), according to a press release issued by the group.

The study noted that in 1996, in at least one study scientists found that people with ambulatory disabilities – including TBI — who were given a service dog showed “well-being” improvements to their self-esteem and “locus of control” within six months compared with to wait-listed control individuals.

The new research sought to determine if pets could also be a boon to “everyday people,” not just individuals facing major health challenges.

The finding?

“Pet owners were just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, indicating no evidence that relationships with pets came at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people relied more on pets when their human social support was poorer,” the APA press release said.

Psychologists at Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University did three experiments to study the potential benefits of pet ownership among “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,” lead researcher Allen McConnell of Miami University said in a statement.

“Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

The flaw in prior research into the benefits of pets was that it was “correlational, meaning it looked at the relationship between two variables but didn’t show that one caused the other,” the release said.

One example of that would be determining that elderly Medicare patients with pets had fewer doctor visits than similar patients without pets.

In the new study, 217 people answered surveys meant to determine if pet owners in the group differed from people who didn’t have pets in terms of their well-being, personality type and attachment style.

“Several differences between the groups emerged, and in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners,” the release said.

The second experiment, involving 56 dog owners, looked at whether pet owners benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs better.

“This study found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence,” according to the press release.

The third study, which used a group of 97 undergraduates, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection.

The students were asked to write about an experience when they felt excluded. Next they were asked to write about their favorite pet, or to write about their favorite friend, or to draw a map of their campus. Researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

I guess dogs really are man’s best friend.

“[T]he 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 researchers wrote.

“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.”

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447