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Spouses and cats and their effects on human mood

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  • I.E.A.P./I.E.T., Inst. for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology

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Previous data indicated that cats influence the moods of singly living people only by decreasing negative moods, while not affecting positive moods. In this study, we asked if such an effect can be 1) replicated, 2) is comparable to the effect of a human partner, and 3) related to the owner’s attachment towards the cat. Two hundred and twelve couples with cats, 31 couples without cats, singly living people with cats (47 women, 45 men) and singly living people without cats (43 women, 9 men) volunteered to participate. We used a list of adjectives (the “EWL”-Questionnaire) to assess their mood, which they responded to on an evening of their choice. The Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS) was additionally completed by the cat owners. Selected adjectives were reduced by factor analyses and labeled bad mood, activity, good mood, and seclusion, according to the highest loadings of mood items within each factor. Each mood factor was explained by cat ownership, presence or absence of a partner, and the person’s sex. Further, sex, partner status and attachment towards cats explained moods amongst the cat owners. Only the partner, but not the cat, enhanced positive moods. Cats alleviated negative moods, and this effect was comparable to the effect of a human partner. This compensatory effect of cat ownership on negative moods was not comparable to a similar effect of degree of attachment towards the cat on human mood. Possible reasons for the unidirectional effect of cats on human mood are discussed.
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... It is tempting to say that cats of these owners function as additions or substitutes for human relationships, but as we did not did not assess the level of social support provided by people and feelings of loneliness, we cannot make firm statements about this. Interestingly, scores for the cat's empathy were not significantly different between owners who do and do not live alone, which contradicts previous findings [37,96]. This could be due to the formulation of the 'empathy' statement in our study as 'my cat knows when I am upset and tries to comfort me', which actually includes two statements ('knows when upset' and 'trying to comfort'). ...
... Attribution of sociocognitive qualities such as 'perceptive', 'empathetic', and 'considerate' to animals makes it possible for them to be a source of emotional support and friendship to us [37,96,97]. As descendants of solitary hunters [96], such sociocognitive skills might be less evolved in cats compared with group-living animals such as humans and dogs, for whom social skills are necessary for survival. ...
... Attribution of sociocognitive qualities such as 'perceptive', 'empathetic', and 'considerate' to animals makes it possible for them to be a source of emotional support and friendship to us [37,96,97]. As descendants of solitary hunters [96], such sociocognitive skills might be less evolved in cats compared with group-living animals such as humans and dogs, for whom social skills are necessary for survival. Studies on the social skills of cats are scarce (partly due to the methodological difficulties of testing cats in unfamiliar environments). ...
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... Animal companions can be a source of life satisfaction and positive emotions with recreational time spent with pets. Pets may also be instrumental in helping to lift depressive moods and reducing stress (McNicholas et al. 2005;Rieger and Turner 1999;Turner et al. 2003). These findings strongly suggest that pet ownership may be an important source of happiness and emotional wellbeing at older ages. ...
... Pet bonding also seemed to be higher for older pet owners. These results are consistent with other studies showing pet ownership as compensation for the absence of human companionship (Zasloff and Kidd 1994) and reduce the prevalence of bad mood (Turner et al. 2003). ...
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... Los beneficios de las TAA han sido investigados en diversos trabajos: como la disminución de la presión sanguínea (Friedmann y Thomas, 1995;Odendaal y Lehmann, 2000), la disminución del estrés y la ansiedad (Barker, Knisely, McCain, Schubert, y Pandurangi, 2010;Haubenhofer y Kirchengast, 2007;Qureshi, Zeeshan, Vazquez, y Suri, 2009), el efecto de neurotransmisores y aumento en la hormona oxitocina (Odendaal, 2000;Odendaal y Meintjes, 2003), la facilitación de apoyo psicológico y social (McConnell, Brown, Shoda, Stayton, y Martin, 2011), la disminución de síntomas depresivos (Holcomb, Jendro, Weber, y Nahan, 1997;Tower y Nokota, 2006;Turner, Rieger, y Gygax, 2003), la mejora del autoestima y estado de ánimo (McConnell et al., 2011) y el aumento de la interacción social (Hunt, Hart, y Gomulkiewicz, 1992;McNicholas y Collis, 2000). ...
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... The latter implies that learning is probably involved. Rieger and Turner [42] found a tendency for cats to react to negative moods of their owners when close to them with more vocalizations and flank-rubbing, while Turner, Rieger, and Gygax [43] later confirmed that cats alleviated negative moods, comparable to the effect of a human partner. ...
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... After a long day at work there is nothing better than opening the door to a dog who is so visibly excited to see you. For some participants, pet ownership helped to regulate, or stabilize low mood, consistent with previous research (e.g., Turner et al., 2003). ...
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Contact with animals has been increasingly recognized as being beneficial to mental health and wellbeing due to their therapeutic function, with “animal-assisted therapies” gaining in popularity. There is less research exploring how companion animals within the home impact upon mental health and wellbeing. This qualitative study explores people’s experiences of the role of their pets in reducing or exacerbating their mental health symptomology and general wellbeing. One hundred and nineteen adults, 41 with a diagnosed mental health condition, and 70 recently struggling with their mental health, completed an online survey with open and closed questions to explore their experiences of their pets and mental health. Through thematic analysis, seven key themes were identified. Six themes encompassed benefits of pets; increased hedonic tone; increased motivation and behavioral activation; reduced anxiety symptoms and panic attacks; increased social connections and reduced loneliness; reduced risk behaviors; and coping and aiding the recovery process. One theme encompassed negative impacts: increased negative feelings and emotional strain. Notably, pets reduced urges of self-harm, and prevented onsets of panic attacks and suicide attempts. Both direct mechanisms (e.g., lowering physiological anxiety through physical touch) and indirect mechanisms (e.g., elevating mood through humor, increased mindfulness and disrupting rumination) were identified. These findings encapsulate the complex roles that pets can play in people’s mental health and wellbeing, and highlights that even when the human–pet relationship is regarded positively, pets cannot “treat” mental health difficulties, and should not be viewed as such. Mental health practitioners should be aware and considerate of the importance of pets in people’s lives as well as individual differences in the potential capability of pets to both reduce or exacerbate mental health symptomology and overall wellbeing.
... More mood subscales in women than in men are affected by the cat, and they are more strongly affected than in men. Turner et al. (44) concluded that only the partner, but not the cat, enhances positive moods, while the cats alleviate negative moods. This effect was comparable to the effect of a human partner. ...
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... Cat-human relationships resulted in fact in stress relief and in increased companionship (Bernstein et al. 2000). Further, owners experienced better health (including fewer occurrences of minor health problems such as cold and flu) and social benefits, such as more positive moods and promotion of social interactions (Serpell 1991, Bernstein et al. 2000, Turner et al. 2003, Lewis et al. 2009. ...
Chapter
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