Health Female Adda
5 months ago
6 social and psychological benefits of having pets

French poet Anatole France once said, “Unless you have loved an animal, part of your soul remains unawakened.” Typically, in every household, there would be one person who would want a pet and the other would be dead against it. Sometimes the ‘pet v/s no pet debate’ pits children against parents, husband against wife and roommates against roommates. It’s not a decision that can be taken at the drop of the hat, because keeping an animal means additional responsibility, irrespective of the pet’s size.

But ask anyone who has had a pet and they’ll tell you what a rewarding experience it has been. Like any other relationship, it’s a one that’s fraught with its own ups and downs, happy times and sad. This is probably why despite all the hassles and expenses of maintaining a pet, most people don’t ever regret keeping one. Cat, dog, hamster, birds, horses or a gecko, no matter which your favourite pet is, interacting with animals has a lot of health benefits. But it doesn’t stop there. Animal interactions also benefit pet owners socially and psychologically. Here are some of the psychosocial benefits of having pets.

1. Increased empathy
Research suggests that having a pet, especially dogs, makes others more empathetic towards you. In a 2006 study, researchers asked college students to rate the trustworthiness of two physiotherapists, one with a pet dog and the other without. Participants, particularly those who had the least positive attitude towards psychotherapists, reported feeling more satisfied with the therapy and were more willing to disclose personal information. Likewise, in 2008, researchers studied the influence of pets on social interaction. In four different experiments, experimenters asked strangers on the street for money and women for their phone numbers in public. They even checked if someone would help them pick up the coins they dropped. Stunningly, the presence of dogs influenced the people to be more compliant. Women shared their phone numbers more readily and strangers offered to help the experimenters when the dog was around.

2. Increased positive attention from others
Pets are good conversation starters. Even walking your dog at the park will invite pleasant smiles from people who would want to play with your pet and ask you all sorts of questions about it. Science has proven that to be true.Two studies in 1987 and 1988 show that when wheelchair-bound people in the company of a service dog, it influenced friendliness and smiles. People also struck up conversation with them. Pets also promote social extroversion in children with psychiatric illnesses.

3. Reduced aggression
Taking care of an animal can be demanding. It requires truckloads of patience. After years of caring for the animal, it’s natural for the pet owners to become calmer and more patient than before. Few studies have pointed out that the presence of a friendly animal helps reduce aggression in humans. Two studies studied the effects of friendly dogs on classroom aggression among first graders. In the presence of the dog, the children were less aggressive than before.

4. Reduced depression
Coming back to your happy pets is all you need to forget the bad day at work. The thought that someone could love you so unconditionally is heart warming to say the least. In 2007, a study concluded that animal-assisted interventions have the ability to reduce symptoms of depression. There are documented cases of pets like dogs and birds being used in nursing homes to alleviate symptoms of depression and improve quality of life among inmates.

5. Reduced stress
It is said that sitting next to a purring cat, listening to the tweeting or birds or spending time interactign with your dog can reduce stress. A large body of studies have validated these beliefs. Stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine are released by the adrenal glands when there is a stressful situation. But too much of these hormones, especially, cortisol is associated with weight gain, reduced immunity and impaired sleep. Interaction with animals seems to have an attenuating effect on these stress hormones, helping you cope well with stress.

6. Enhanced learning
Here’s a good reason to get your children the pup they have been asking for. Growing up with pets helps children learn the virtues of responsibility and sacrifice at a very young age. But apart from that, there is some evidence to support the fact that animals can positively impacting preconditions of learning in children. A 2007 study showed that children with developmental disability performed faster in the presence of pets. Even pre-school children with language impairments learnt better when there was a pet dog around.

Reference:

Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 234. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234

Image source: Shutterstock

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