The influence of animals on the development of children

Department of Animals in Science and Society, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.
The Veterinary Journal (Impact Factor: 1.76). 12/2010; 190(2):208-14. DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2010.11.020
Source: PubMed


There is a widespread belief that interaction with an animal is beneficial for the development of children, and several studies (most with methodological shortcomings) have investigated the influence of (companion) animals on the social-emotional and cognitive development of children. In this article, the 1984 model of Professor Jay Belsky has been used to describe which variables influence the development of children and how the companion animal-child interaction influences these variables. The value of the AAA/AAT (Animal Assisted Activities/Animal Assisted Therapy) programmes in children with a wide variety of clinical and social problems, such as behaviour problems and autistic spectrum symptoms, is discussed. The findings suggest that (companion) animals positively influence children's development and have a valuable role in therapy.

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    • "In addition, non owners show more psychosomatic symptoms linked to anxiety such as headache, lack of appetite, skin diseases, cardiovascular problems and depression than dog-owners (Bergler, 1992). Nevertheless there is a need for studies on the possible health effects that people have on animals, looking at the animal side of the bond (Beck & Katcher, 2003), as well as on how the welfare of animals can be protected (Endenburg & van Lith, 2011). For instance, the ability of owners to recognize the behavioural signs of stress of their pet is an important factor in avoiding pet welfare problems (Kerswell et al., 2009; Mariti et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: The aim of the current study was to assess whether and how the presence of a dog can influence the level of anxiety in mothers with a child and women without children. Moreover, the ability of female dog owners with or without children to recognize sign of stress and to assess the level of stress in their pet was evaluated. For these purposes, 58 mothers of a child (0-6 years old), owning a dog, 84 mothers of a child (0-6 years old) who did not own a dog, and 87 women with a dog but without children filled in two questionnaires. The first questionnaire was the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Form Y (STAI-Y), consisting of 20 questions for the evaluation of the state anxiety and 20 for the trait anxiety. The second questionnaire was aimed at analysing owner's perception of stress in their dog. It was found that female dog owners without children showed a lower trait anxiety. Mothers perceived a lower stress level in their dogs, compared to owners without children. However, mothers resulted less able to identify the canine signs of stress and the potentially stressful situations for dogs and this could explain the previous result. This lack of communication between owners (in particular mothers) and dogs may lead to a condition of poor dog welfare and turn into canine aggression and dangerous behaviors towards family members, especially children.
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    • "A general proneness toward animals is observed in children from a very early stage of development (DeLoache et al., 2011; Lobue et al., 2012; Borgi and Cirulli, 2013). Children are more likely to be attentive and to have increased motivational levels in the presence of animals and this has led to the inclusion of different animal species both in educational and therapeutic interventions aimed at promoting healthy development in children (Cirulli et al., 2011; Endenburg and van Lith, 2011; Berry et al., 2013; O'Haire, 2013). Even in subjects with a deficit in the social domain (i.e., autism spectrum disorder) a preference for animal over human and inanimate stimuli has been shown (Celani, 2002; Prothmann et al., 2009; Grandgeorge et al., 2014) as well as an increase in social behaviors in the presence of animals compared to toys (O'Haire et al., 2013). "
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    ABSTRACT: The baby schema concept was originally proposed as a set of infantile traits with high appeal for humans, subsequently shown to elicit caretaking behavior and to affect cuteness perception and attentional processes. However, it is unclear whether the response to the baby schema may be extended to the human-animal bond context. Moreover, questions remain as to whether the cute response is constant and persistent or whether it changes with development. In the present study we parametrically manipulated the baby schema in images of humans, dogs and cats. We analyzed responses of 3-6-year-old children, using both explicit (i.e. cuteness ratings) and implicit (i.e. eye gaze patterns) measures. By means of eye-tracking, we assessed children’s preferential attention to images varying only for the degree of baby schema and explored participants’ fixation patterns during a cuteness task. For comparative purposes, cuteness ratings were also obtained in a sample of adults. Overall our results show that the response to an infantile facial configuration emerges early during development. In children, the baby schema affects both cuteness perception and gaze allocation to infantile stimuli and to specific facial features, an effect not simply limited to human faces. In line with previous research, results confirm human positive appraisal towards animals and inform both educational and therapeutic interventions involving pets, helping to minimize risk factors (e.g. dog bites).
    Frontiers in Psychology 05/2014; 5:411. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00411 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • "Increased social interaction in the reviewed studies may have been related to reported increases in language and communication during AAI in the presence of an animal (Martin and Farnum 2002; Sams et al. 2006), following AAI (Keino et al. 2009; Memishevikj and Hodzhikj 2010), and compared to a no treatment control condition (Gabriels et al. 2012). These outcomes support theoretical and empirical work, which demonstrates that interacting with animals may inspire vocalization and elicit communication in children (e.g., Endenburg and van Lith 2011; Gee 2011; Melson 2011). Some of the reviewed studies also found that participants with ASD demonstrated fewer problem behaviors during AAI in the presence of an animal (Silva et al. 2011), following AAI (Viau et al. 2010), and compared to a no treatment control condition (Gabriels et al. 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: The inclusion of animals in therapeutic activities, known as animal-assisted intervention (AAI), has been suggested as a treatment practice for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This paper presents a systematic review of the empirical research on AAI for ASD. Fourteen studies published in peer-reviewed journals qualified for inclusion. The presentation of AAI was highly variable across the studies. Reported outcomes included improvements for multiple areas of functioning known to be impaired in ASD, namely increased social interaction and communication as well as decreased problem behaviors, autistic severity, and stress. Yet despite unanimously positive outcomes, most studies were limited by many methodological weaknesses. This review demonstrates that there is preliminary "proof of concept" of AAI for ASD and highlights the need for further, more rigorous research.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 11/2012; DOI:10.1007/s10803-012-1707-5 · 3.34 Impact Factor
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