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Child Development and the Human-Companion Animal Bond



Companion animals are more common in households with minor children than in any other household type. More than 70% of U.S. households with children also have pets, with most parents reporting acquisition of an animal "for the children." Yet, studies of children's development largely have been limited to children's relationships with other humans. This article argues for a biocentric approach to development, in which children's contacts with the non-human world—animals, plants, and natural ecologies—come under scientific scrutiny. To understand the developmental significance of this ubiquitous aspect of children's environments, theory and research on companion animals in relation to perceptual, cognitive, social, and emotional development are reviewed and evaluated. The significance of children's encounters with animals, especially in the context of a human-companion animal bond, is emphasized. Biocentric research directions are described.
Child Development
Child Development and the Human Companion Animal Bond
Gail F. Melson
Purdue University
Child Development
Companion animals are more common in households with minor children than in any
other household type. Over 70% of U. S. households with children also have pets,1 with
most parents reporting acquisition of an animal “for the children.” Yet, studies of
children’s development largely have been limited to children’s relationships with other
humans. This paper argues for a biocentric approach to development, in which children’s
contacts with the nonhuman world—animals, plants, and natural ecologies—come under
scientific scrutiny. To understand the developmental significance of this ubiquitous
aspect of children’s environments, theory and research on companion animals in relation
to perceptual, cognitive, social and emotional development are reviewed and evaluated.
The significance of children’s encounters with animals, especially in the context of a
human-companion animal bond, is emphasized. Biocentric research directions are
Child Development
Child Development and the Human Companion Animal Bond
When the children were changing the water of the goldfish, Frank had a sudden impulse
of cruelty, and said to the others, “Shall we stamp on it?”…Before she [the teacher] could
stop them, they had thrown the fish out into the sand and stamped on it. They stood
round and looked at it, rather excited, and obviously wishing they hadn’t done it, and
Frank said, “Now let’s put it into water, and then it’ll come alive again.” (Isaacs, 1930,
pp. 204-205).
Raymond put on his blue-jean pants as he stood by the bed. Honey, Raymond’s fat,
broad, elderly fox terrier, ambled into the room. Raymond greeted her in a sleepy but
friendly voice. “Hi, Honey.” Honey put her front paws on Raymond’s knees. He
scratched her back and patted her as he finished buckling his belt. (Barker & Wright,
1951, p. 18)
Drew: “You know what?” Mr. Lloyd: “Hmm?” Drew: “I have a turtle except it died.”
Mr. Lloyd: “Why did it die?” Drew: “It wasn’t eating its food, turtle food.” (Myers,
1998, p. 56).
In the quotations above, spanning almost seventy years, scholars of child
development observed naturally occurring encounters between children and companion
animals. In the first quote, Susan Isaacs, a British psychoanalyst, described a group of
preschool children in her nursery school as they learned, the hard way, about the needs of
fish. The second quote comes from One Boy’s Day, by the Americans Roger Barker and
Herbert Wright, pioneers of ecological psychology, who demonstrated their method of
behavioral observation within natural settings by meticulously recording every waking
moment in a single day (April 26, 1949) in the life of seven year old Raymond living
with his parents and dog Honey in a small Midwestern town. In the third quote, Gene
Myers, a contemporary environmental psychologist, sensitively recorded a group of
preschoolers for a year as they interacted with, looked at, and thought about animals.
These three accounts are exemplary, but they are not common. By and large,
scholars of child development have ignored or, at best, slighted children’s relationships
with companion animals. This is surprising, for several reasons. First, companion
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animals are hardly a rare phenomenon; a recent survey by the American Veterinary
Medical Association reported that 70 percent of all households with children under six
years of age and 78% of all households with children over six had pets (AVMA, 1997).
(Similar percentages are reported in countries of Western Europe.) Moreover, pets are
more likely to be found in households with minor children than in any other household
type2. Companion animals and children literally go together; their co-occurrence within
households raises the question of what, if any, influence each might have on the other.
Secondly, the theoretical paradigms currently dominating the study of child development
emphasize the importance of studying children within their naturally occurring
environments, as Barker and Wright had urged over fifty years ago. For example,
Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) widely adopted ecological systems framework stresses that
individual characteristics of children interact with multiple interrelated settings, such as
family, school, peer groups, neighborhoods, communities, and society, and urges detailed
examination of environmental characteristics and children’s interactions with them.
Dynamic systems theory (Thelen, 2000), relationship psychology (Fogel, 1993), and
attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) all situate children’s development within the context
of important relationship bonds. Presumably, these theoretical orientations would have
led to studies of the non-human companions who are present in the majority of children’s
environments, yet, with a few exceptions (see, in particular Bryant, 1985 and Myers,
1998), scholars have restricted their inquiries to human relationships.
Elsewhere (Melson, 2001) I have argued that this anthropocentric, or human only,
focus has impeded both theory and research into the developmental significance of
animals, especially companion animals, for children. However, a small but growing
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group of developmentalists (Kahn, 1999; Myers, 1998) has been urging a “biocentric”
approach to child development. Such an approach assumes that children will exhibit
interest in and involvement with non-human as well as human aspects of their
environments. Consistent with the biophilia hypothesis (Kellert, 1997; Wilson, 1984),
which posits that humans have adapted to be attentive to life forms, children are expected
to show particular interest in living non-humans, especially other animals.3
To demonstrate the usefulness of such an approach, I will briefly describe how
considering children’s connections with companion animals can enrich understanding of
children’s perceptual, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Where possible, I
will draw on empirical research that helps document this claim. However, because of the
anthropocentric focus described earlier, the research base is inadequate for most
generalizations about children’s relationships with companion animals. Noting this, I
will hypothesize about potential developmental significance in areas not fully
investigated to date, and suggest fruitful research avenues for future study. I conclude
with some cautions that point to the challenges inherent in biocentric studies of
Although most studies of pets in the children’s lives have understandably focused
on social and emotional aspects, there are intriguing indications that companion animals
also may play a role in perceptual, cognitive, and language development. Therefore, I
begin with these more speculative areas.
Perceptual and cognitive development
The great scholar Eleanor Gibson’s work on perceptual development (1988)
provides a starting point. In her theory of perceptual affordances, infants extract
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knowledge through looking at, hearing, feeling, tasting, and acting on objects, thereby
discovering what objects “afford,” or the “what-can-I-do-with-this?” of things. During
the first year of life (precisely when is still debated), infants distinguish between the
movement of living beings and the movement of inanimate objects. For example, seven
month olds register a surprised expression if they see an inanimate object, like a block of
wood, appear to move without any force applied to it, but they are not surprised when a
person initiates movement (Spelke, Phillips, & Woodward, 1995). (This study has not
been replicated with a moving non-human animal.) In Gibson’s terms, living beings, such
as a live cat, have fundamentally different affordances than do objects like a stuffed toy
cat of the same size and shape.
There is some evidence that the affordances of companion animals are
perceptually interesting to young children, sustain their attention, and motivate their
curiosity. Aline Kidd and Robert Kidd, who have extensively studied children and their
pets, compared how infants and toddlers, ranging from six- to thirty months of age,
behaved toward their pet dogs and cats as compared with a “lifelike” battery-operated toy
dog and toy cat. The babies smiled, held, followed, and made sounds to the live animals,
especially the dogs, more than to the toy ones (Kidd & Kidd, 1987). In another study,
which, unlike that of the Kidds, controlled for the novelty of objects, nine-month olds
approached, touched, and looked at a live dwarf rabbit more than a female adult stranger
or a wooden turtle that moved, made noises, and flashed lights (Ricard & Allard, 1992).
As a final illustration of the affordances of living animals, consider the findings of
Nielsen and Delude (1989), who observed how two- to six-year olds in their day care or
kindergarten classrooms responded to a variety of live animals—a Mexican red-legged
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tarantula, a two-and-a-half-month-old English angora rabbit, a mature cockatiel, and a
five-year-old female golden retriever dog—as well as two realistic stuffed plush animals
—a dog and a bird. The children ignored the stuffed animals (80% never looked at them),
but the live animals, especially the dog and bird, were powerful stimuli. Seventy-four
percent touched the dog, which was in a sit-stay position, and 21% kissed the dog. Over
two thirds talked to the bird.
The perceptually intriguing affordances of living animals may well stimulate
children’s learning, particularly about the characteristics and needs of animals (including
other humans and themselves), or what psychologists term “naïve biology” (Carey,
1985). In support of this, Japanese kindergarteners caring for pet goldfish, as compared
with their classmates, better understood unobservable goldfish biology, as shown by their
more accurate answers to questions like: “Does a goldfish have a heart?” The goldfish
raisers also reasoned more accurately about other species, using analogies from goldfish
care. One child explained that a baby frog could not stay the same size forever since “the
frog will grow bigger as my goldfish got bigger.” (Hatano & Inagaki, 1993). Although
this study did not measure the relation between goldfish raising and understanding of
death, it is possible that caring for companion animals promotes more elaborated and
more accurate ideas about life and death.
Why do companion animals, indeed all animals, present such good learning
opportunities? In the words of Hatano and Inagaki (1993, p. 126) a living animal
presents “inherently occurring variations in its critical parameters.” In other words,
animals are predictably unpredictable. To the observing child, animal behavior embodies
what Piaget (1969) argues is the engine of all learning: cognitive incongruity, moderate
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discrepancy from established schema, and novel information. Moreover, for many
children, companion animals are likely to be powerful motivators for learning, for at least
two well-established reasons: (a) children learn and retain more about subjects in which
they are emotionally invested4; and (b) children’s learning is optimized when it occurs
within meaningful relationships (Vygotsky, 1978).
Social and emotional development
Most research and theoretical attention to companion animals in the lives of
children has focused on these domains of development. Considerable evidence
documents that companion animals are important affective ties that many children rank
among their most intimate (Melson, 2001). For example, when asked to name the ten
most important individuals in their lives, seven- and ten-year olds, included on average
two pets (Bryant, 1985). Establishing the importance of companion animal ties is an
essential precondition to exploring their functions for socio-emotional development. To
illustrate, below, I briefly review two functions, social support and nurturance.
Social support: Hundreds of studies identify lack of human social support as a
significant risk factor for physical and psychological problems, especially for vulnerable
groups of children and adults (Cohen & McKay, 1984). There is evidence that many pet-
owning children derive emotional support from their pets. In a sample of seven- and ten-
year olds in California, Bryant (1985) found that pet owners were as likely to talk to their
pets about sad, angry, happy, and secret experiences as with their siblings. In interviews
with a sample of Michigan ten- to fourteen year olds, 75% said that when upset, they
turned to their pets (Covert, et. al., 1985). In a study of 68 five year olds in Indiana, all
about to enter public schooling, 42% spontaneously mentioned a pet when asked: “Who
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do you turn to when you are feeling sad, angry, happy, or wanting to share a
secret?”(Melson & Schwarz, 1994).
Children appear to discriminate among the support provisions of different
relationships; when comparing parents, friends, and pets, elementary school children
considered ties with pets most likely to last “no matter what” and “even if you get mad at
each other” (Furman, 1989). In an indication that using pet support may have adaptive
value, parents of those five-year-olds who turned to their pets for support rated them as
less anxious and withdrawn, as compared with same age children who did not use pet
support, but had pets available within their homes (Melson & Schwarz, 1994).
Nurturance: Since pets are dependent upon human care for survival and optimal
development, companion animals provide children the opportunity to learn about,
practice, and become motivated to appropriately nurture another being. Elsewhere (Fogel
& Melson, 1986), my colleagues and I have argued that the development of nurturance is
an important underpinning for effective parenting, non-family child care, and care giving
of elderly and persons with disabilities or illnesses. Importantly, from age three, both
boys and girls perceive nurturing human young as gender-linked, or in the words of one
preschooler, “a mommy thing.”(Melson, 2001; Melson, Fogel, & Toda, 1986). However,
children view caring for pets, such as dogs and cats, as gender-neutral (Melson & Fogel,
1989). Consistent with these perceptions, boys engage in less, girls in more, baby and
child care with age; by contrast, both boys and girls similarly maintain consistent, high
levels of pet care as they develop. For example, according to parent reports, the amount
of time children devote to pet care and play with pets increases steadily with age from
five- to twelve years of age, while sibling care time correspondingly declines. As a
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result, twelve-year olds are spending more time caring for pets than caring for younger
siblings, when both are present in their families (Melson & Fogel, 1996). Another study
found that 75% of eight- to ten-year olds had sole or shared responsibility for pet care,
and 92% felt that caring for their pets was an “important” or “very important” part of
their relationship with the animal (Rost & Hartmann, 1987).
If as Robert Weiss (1974) suggests, the opportunity to nurture others is a basic
human need, even in childhood, pets may play a compensatory role in providing this
outlet for only or youngest children. In support of this, we have found that pet owning
children without younger siblings spend more time in pet care and play than do their
counterparts with younger brothers or sisters (Melson & Fogel, 1996).
There is no consistent evidence that nurturing pets generalizes to more sensitive
care giving of humans. In a retrospective survey of British university students, greater
involvement caring for pets during childhood was related only to more humane attitudes
toward pet and non-pet animals and more concerns about animal welfare (Paul & Serpell,
1993). However, a first- and fourth-grade classroom intervention designed to teach more
appropriate, humane forms of nurturing produced greater empathy toward other children
as well as more humane attitudes toward animals (Ascione, 1992). Consistent with this,
five- and six-year olds more attached to their pets expressed greater empathy toward
peers (Melson, Peet, & Sparks, 1992), while seven- and ten-year olds who report more
“intimate talks” with pets also report more empathy (Bryant, 1985). Since empathy, or
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a necessary (although not
sufficient) condition for nurturance, these findings should encourage further inquiry into
links between nurturing pets and human relationships.
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As noted earlier, research on children and companion animals is limited in both
quantity and quality. With few exceptions, studies are correlational, leaving many
confounds in any obtained relationship, and preventing any causal conclusions. Take the
association between human-directed empathy and attachment to pets, noted above.
Parents may obtain pets for children who are already empathic. Highly empathic children
may have greater skill at bonding with an animal (as well as a person).
Another issue is the lack of research that integrates assessment of relationships
with both humans and animals. For example, contemporary studies of children’s social
support continue to ask only about those “people” who are important to the child, while
research on the human-companion animal bond restricts its inquiry to support derived
from pets. This separation of scholarship on human from human-animal relationships
prevents scholars from investigating whether, for example, pet support might compensate
for, amplify, or be unconnected to human support.
A third concern is the tendency to examine either presumably positive aspects of
children’s relationships with their pets, such as attachment to one’s pet, or less frequently,
negative aspects (cruelty toward animals, for example) (Ascione, 1993), without
integrating both dimensions within the same study. An exception is Ascione, who, with
colleagues, has developed an interview protocol to gather information on both
maltreatment of and kindness toward animals (Ascione, Thompson, & Black, 1997).
When scholars inquire about multiple facets of child-pet relationships, they uncover
considerable complexity. Children report both benefits and “costs” (for example, distress
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over a missing animal) to pet ownership (Bryant, 1990); similarly, they readily identify
things they like and don’t like about their pet.
Finally, particularly when children are studied, the child-pet relationship should
be viewed systemically, since family dynamics, particularly parent-child relationships,
always modify and shape children’s other relationships. Because the overwhelming
majority of pet owners identifies their animals as “family members,” the insights of
family systems theory is useful to examine how pets alter (and are altered by) family
dynamics. A study by Ann Cain (1985) offers intriguing hints of what we might find. Her
interviews contain many examples of both adults and children “triangling” pets, that is,
deflecting to pets or routing through pets emotion and communication intended for other
human family members. For example, a mother is angry at her daughter, but yells at the
dog instead; a father talks to the cat so that his son can overhear, saying things he would
not say directly to the child. Other aspects of pets within the family system are ripe for
investigation. Children may cast their pets as functional younger siblings, as peer
playmates, as their own “children” or even, as a security providing attachment figure.
In sum, there is enough existing research to argue for expansion of scholarship on
children’s environments to include non-human animals (as well as plants and natural
ecologies). A biocentric account of children’s development considers children’s
experiences with all living things, particularly animals, as well as humans. Such an
account is yet to be written, but exploration of the significant ties of children with their
pets is an excellent starting point.
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1 I use the terms “companion animals” and “pets” interchangeably, although their meaning varies slightly. The former
term more readily includes horses kept for recreational and companionship purposes. In these contexts, horses are not
commonly referred to as “pets.”
2 Estimates of non-humans residing in households are more unreliable than estimates of humans because national census
taking within the U.S. and other countries collects data only on humans.
3 Humans are of course animals, but following customary usage and for clarity, I refer to all non-human animals as
“animals” and to human animals as “humans.”
4 In the only study demonstrating this point with companion animals, Inagaki showed that Japanese six-year-olds who
cared for pet goldfish at home had more knowledge about the biology of animals than did age mates whose teachers
assigned them to care for classroom rabbits and ducks (Hatano & Inagaki, 1993).
... Recent surveys suggest that over half of the U.S. population has at least one pet at home, most commonly a dog (Applebaum et al., 2023). Furthermore, within the first year of life, over 60% of parents report having a pet in the home with their infants, and these numbers increase over the course of early childhood (Christian et al., 2020;Hurley & Oakes, 2018;Melson, 2003). Importantly, both children and adults consider their pets to be part of the family, with children often reporting having better relationships with their pets than with their siblings (Cassels et al., 2017;Cohen, 2002). ...
Living with a pet is related to a host of socioemotional health benefits for children, yet few studies have examined the mechanisms that drive the relations between pet ownership and positive socioemotional outcomes. The current study examined one of the ways that pets may change the environment through which children learn and whether childhood pet ownership might promote empathy and prosocial behavior through parent–child conversations about emotions and mental states in the presence of a pet dog. Participants included 123 parent (118 mothers, four fathers) and child (65 female, 58 male, Mage = 39.50 months, 75 White, not Hispanic, nine Asian/Pacific Islander, seven Hispanic, five Black/African American, two South Asian/Indian, two American Indian/Alaska Native, two “other,” 21 more than one race, 111 residing in the United States) dyads currently living with a pet dog (n = 61) or having never lived with a pet dog (n = 62). As hypothesized, we found that parents used a greater proportion of emotion and mental state language with their children when playing with their pet dog than with a lifelike toy, suggesting that the presence of a household pet may be one context used to promote conversations about emotions and mental states.
... Asumsi berdasarkan perilaku hewan dapat dilakukan karena perilaku hewan merupakan refleksi terbuka terhadap emosi asli mereka. Hal tersebut membuat seseorang mampu membedakan dan memberikan respon yang tepat terhadap perasaan hewan tersebut (Melson, 2003). ...
There have been numerous studies about the relationship between pet attachment and empathy. However, these studies have shown varying results. This study aimed to examine the relationship between pet attachment and empathy. Participants were 143 undergraduate students of Universitas Gadjah Mada. The participants comprised 106 cat owners, 27 dog owners, and 10 participants with both cats and dogs. All participants were female, ranging in age from 18 to 23 years. All participants completed the online survey, which included a demographic questionnaire, a pet attachment scale, and an empathy scale. Statistical analyses included Pearson Product-Moment Correlation. The results obtained from this study indicate a significant relationship between pet attachment and empathy.
... According to statistics, at least one pet is owned by 68% of US families (American Pet Products Association, 2016) and 46% of UK families (Pet Food Manufacturers Association, 2016). According to epidemiological studies, families with children are more likely than other types of households to own pets Melson, 2003). Since most students spend their time at home, companion animals play a significant role in daily human interaction. ...
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Animal companionship has been found to have a positive influence on human well-being, and the presence of pets can have a subtle yet significant impact on the healthy development of students. Pet companionship takes various forms across different fields in China and other regions worldwide, and the impact of such companionship remains uncertain. Hence, it is imperative to investigate the impact of diverse forms of companionship and animals on multiple facets of student growth and development. This study employed meta-analysis methodologies to examine 47 effect sizes derived from 12 domestic and international studies on pet companionship. The aim was to investigate the overall trends of the influence of pet companionship on student development as well as the effects of diverse types of companionship and pets on different aspects of student development, including physical and mental health, social-emotional abilities, and academic performance. The objective was to enhance the exploration of approaches for maximizing the utilization of various forms of pet companionship. Furthermore, this research suggests a systematic and incremental approach to enhancing the function of pets within households, educational institutions, and medical facilities. Adequate content and organization are essential for scientific advancement and the development of students. In this particular context, it is possible to optimize the impact of pet companionship on the development of students.
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Over the past 50 years, extensive research has been published on the parent–child relationship and parenting. However, there are very few examples where young children are at the centre of attention for describing family dynamics, relationships and conflicts. This study aimed at addressing this research and knowledge gap through exploring the emotional and relational experiences of preschool children whose parents attended a universal parenting programme. Seventeen preschool children aged 3–6 were interviewed, using an emotion-focused, pictorial-based computer assisted interview method. The children’s descriptions of their family relationships were analysed using qualitative content analysis. The children described negative interplay within the families in rich detail, especially experiences where conflicts with parents escalated and were left unresolved. Moments of positive family interactions were described as well, but they were heavily overshadowed by the narratives containing negative parenting. The children also described compensatory behaviours, such as looking for comfort from siblings or pets. The narratives in this study gave a unique insight into the emotional and relational domestic context of children in families seeking universally offered parenting support. Given adequate tools and support, children as young as 3 or 4 years old could provide extensive information about their lives. We urge future research examining parenting or family interventions to include the children’s perspectives.
In this article, we explore the common worlds of children and companion animals, and ask how animals are contributing to the making of contemporary families, and of childhood therein. Departing from D. H. Morgan’s conceptualisation of family practices, we explore the possibility of extending this concept to children-animals relationships and ask whether it is possible to talk about children-animal practices. We draw on empirical data from 48 interviews conducted within 24 Portuguese families, with children aged 8–14, and living with at least one dog and/or one cat for six months or more. We propose that animals are actively doing family, and contributing to the making of contemporary childhood and parenthood. We conclude that there is theoretical and methodological potential in developing the concept of children-animal practices.
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This paper investigates diminutives and hypocoristics in asymmetric verbal communication of Russianspeaking children, aged 13 to 16, when communicating with their pets. Observational data was collected by semi-formal oral and written questionnaires concerning these derivatives used when communicating with and talking about pets. The frequency of diminutives and hypocoristics, as well as their semantic and derivational features in the speech of boys and girls, are considered against the background of similar data of adults of corresponding gender. The gender and age differences identified in the use of diminutives and hypocoristics by respondents are statistically significant. Specifically, girls’ pet-directed speech was diminutively richer than the boys’ (both in terms of lemmas and tokens). The semantic preferences documented during diminutivization in adolescents of both genders are comparable, but differ from those of adults, as does the inventory of diminutive suffixes. The pragmatic functions of the use of diminutives and hypocoristics indicate a predominant expression of empathy, the trigger for which is a pet. The article also highlights other features of adolescent speech when addressing pets.
Research to date in Western contexts has indicated various physical and psychological health effects of pet ownership among children, but less is known about the role pets play in the health of children in China. The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the evidence on the effects of pet ownership on physical and psychological health among children in China. A literature search was performed in eight databases for studies that investigated the health and psychological effects of pet exposure on children (operationalized as birth to 20 years) in China, and a quality assessment and a narrative synthesis of results were conducted. Fifty-nine studies published between 2002 and 2021 were included in this review, of which 57 focused on children’s physical health issues including asthma and allergy symptoms, Toxoplasma gondii infection, animal induced injuries, low birth weight and hypertension, while only two studies focused on children’s psychological health. Overall, pet exposure was most often studied as a risk factor for respiratory health, injuries, and T. gondii infection among children in China but was also seen as a protective factor for cardiovascular health and for the association between environmental pollution and children’s respiratory function. In addition to physical health effects, two studies focused on psychological factors: post-traumatic stress following animal-induced injuries and benefits of reading following a canine-assisted activity. Findings underscore the need for further research examining the effects of pet ownership on children’s development and psychological health in China.
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Companion animals, including pet dogs, can be sources of support and potentially contribute to children’s competence and adjustment. The goal of this paper is to examine whether children’s pet dog relationships are related to their competence and adjustment after accounting for relationships with parents and friends and demographic factors. We distinguished three qualities of child-pet dog relationships – positive pet relationship qualities, friction, and pets as substitutes for people – and examined them in relation to children’s thriving, school academic performance, and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. The sample included 115 children (M age = 10.93, 57 girls and 58 boys) who completed questionnaires about the quality of their relationship with a pet dog, the positive and negative qualities of a best friendship, and the security of attachments to parents. To measure child competence, children reported their thriving and parents reported children’s school academic performance. To measure adjustment, parents and teachers reported child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Positive pet relationship qualities were related to a higher competence. Friction and pets as substitutes were related to lower competence and adjustment, although some findings varied by the reporter or after controlling for other factors. Pet relationship quality uniquely contributed to some child outcomes, although moderation analyses did not provide any evidence that pet dog relationships compensate for low-quality friendships or insecure parental attachments. Collectively, the findings suggest that relationships with pets may augment but not override the impact of relationships with parents and friends.
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Bumper stickers reading "Friends can be good medicine!" were distributed by the California Department of Mental Health in 1981 as part of a statewide health promotion initiative (California Department of Mental Health, 1981). The objectives of the initiative were to increase awareness of the health-promoting influence of supportive relationships and to encourage personal involvement providing support to others. Although the ultimate success of this project is unknown, its implementation reflects the degree to which a link between social support and health has become part of our belief system. Correlations between social support and health outcomes have been found in a range of contexts and using a variety of methods (for recent reviews, see Broadhead et al. Although links between social support and health are consistently found, our understanding of the nature of this relation remains limited. A problem in past research was that social support was conceptualized unidimensionally, although it was operationalized in many different ways (e.g., marital status, community involvement, availability of confidants). More recent efforts have analyzed social support into component functions. Theorists differ somewhat with respect to the specific functions served by social support, but most conceptualizations include emotional sustenance, self-esteem building, provision of information and feedback, and tangible assistance (e.g.. Once support is defined in terms of its functions, it is possible to generate hypotheses concerning the psychological processes through which social support has its effects. Although clear theoretical formulations of the helping functions served by relationships arc crucial in the generation of hypotheses, these predictions cannot be empirically tested without appropriate assessment instruments. As described in House and Kahn's (1985) recent review, a number of social support measures have been developed. The measures differ widely in their implicit models of social support, some assessing number of supporters, others tapping frequency of supportive acts, and still others measuring degree of satisfaction with support. A number of problems have plagued these measurement efforts. At the theoretical level, the authors of social support measures have rarely articulated the assumptions underlying their instruments. For example, if a measure assesses the number of supportive individuals, the assumption is that better outcomes are associated with the quantity of support sources. If a measure taps satisfaction with support, the assumption is that better outcomes are associated with the perception that support is adequate for one's needs, regardless of tile number of supporters. Although these differences are rarely articulated, different research questions are posed and answered as a function of the manner in which social support is assessed. Inconsistencies in the literature nay be related to differences in the aspects of social support that are assessed in different studies (see Cohen & Wills, 1985).
250 infants, 25 boys and 25 girls each in the 6-, 12-, 18-, 24-, and 30-mo. age groups, were individually observed with a mechanical toy dog which barked and moved realistically, a contact-comfort mechanical cat which purred and meowed when hugged and petted, and the family dog(s) and/or cat(s), presented in random order. An investigator-generated checklist of proximity-seeking and contact-promoting behaviors was used to record subject responses demonstrating whether the infants attached to pets because of tactual qualities, sounds, movement, familiarity, and/or behavioral qualities. It was hypothesized that as babies age, their responses to the live pet and toy animals would become progressively dissimilar and that older infants would show significantly more attachment behaviors and would spend significantly more time observing and interacting with live pets than with toy animals. Data support the hypotheses and indicate significant differences in the quantity of attachment behaviors toward live pets and toy animals at one year. From one year on, dogs are significantly preferred to cats by both sexes. During the first year, boys show significantly more attachment behaviors than girls; the two sexes are equal at 18 mo., and girls show significantly mote attachment behaviors than boys at 24 and 30 mo.
Reviews One Boy's Day: A Specimen Record of Behavior (see record 1951-07962-000) by Roger G. Barker and Herbert F. Wright. The reviewer notes that this book contains a record of 14 hours of consecutive observation of a seven-year-old, Midwestern, small-town boy, at home, at school, and at play. Each of eight observers recorded in one-minute intervals the objective behavior of Raymond Birch in his natural habitat and interpretive comments regarding that behavior. The theoretical framework within which the observations were collected is not included in this volume. One Boy's Day contains, in effect, only raw data. Therefore the reviewer concludes that it cannot really be evaluated and it is unfortunate that the authors did not enlarge the volume to include their formulation of the meaning and task of psychological ecology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Using a multi-dimensional, multi-measure approach, this study examined children's attachment to their pets and related three dimensions of such attachment—behavioral, affective and cognitive—to empathy and perceived competence. Child characteristics (age, sex), family characteristics (marital status, socioeconomic status, maternal employment and family size) and pet type (dog, cat) as influences on attachment to pets also were explored. Individual interviews were conducted with 120 children from kindergarten, second-and fifth-grades, and questionnaire responses were collected from one parent of each child. Pet attachment was higher for older children and those whose mothers were employed. Pet attachment related differently to empathy and perceived competence depending upon grade level.