Owning a lively pet may sometimes prove exasperating, but it appears all the effort is worth it.
Pet owners are healthier, have greater self-esteem and are less lonely than those who don’t have animals at home, according to a study.
Not only that, but they are also more conscientious, extroverted and less fearful, researchers at the American Psychological Association said.
Man’s best friend: Owning a pet brings with it many benefits including improved health, greater self-esteem and less loneliness, according to scientists
They believe that pets serve as important sources of social and emotional support for the average person, and not just individuals facing significant health challenges.
Lead researcher, Allen R McConnell, of Miami University in Ohio, said: ‘We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions.
‘Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.’
Pet owners are just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, the study found.
This indicates no evidence that relationships with pets come at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people relied more on pets when their human social support was poorer.
The scientists, from Miami University and Saint Louis University in Missouri, conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called ‘everyday people’.
They questioned 217 people with an average age of 31 and family income of $77,000, 79 per cent of whom were women.
The group answered a survey aimed at determining whether pet owners differed from people without pets in terms of well-being and personality type.
Researchers now believe that pets serve as important sources of social and emotional support for the average person, and not just individuals facing significant health challenges
Several differences between the groups emerged – in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.
A second experiment involved 56 dog owners with an average age of 42 and family income of $65,000, 91 per cent of whom were women.
This group were questioned about whether they benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs better.
The researchers here found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.
The last group, made up of 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection.
Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favourite pet, or to write about their favourite friend, or to draw a map of their campus.
The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.
‘The 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.’
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,