Published on November 17, 2007
Slide1: Animals as Social Support Providers: Understanding the Value of Human-Companion Animal Relationships James A. Serpell, MA., PhD. Center for the Interaction of Animals & Society, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, USA. Slide2: US Pet Population Trends 1967-1999 (Since 1967 the dog and cat population of the USA has almost tripled in size. In 1999 there were more than twice as many dogs and cats per person than there were in 1967). Pet Ownership is Costly: Pet Ownership is Costly Americans spend more than $8.4 billion annually on prepared pet foods. And approximately $11 billion on pet health care. About 800,000 people require medical treatment for dog bites each year in the USA. (Source: NY Times, June 7, 1998; US News and World Report, May 17, 1999). So why do people keep pets?(theories): So why do people keep pets? (theories) Because we can’t help it: pet keeping is an innate parental response triggered by the infantile appearance and behavior of some animals. To compensate for social deficits: pets are person substitutes. Because of an innate predisposition to attend to, and affiliate with, life and life-like processes – “Biophilia”. Because pet keeping is good for us: relationships with pets are health enhancing. Slide5: Social parasitism (Right) European cuckoo chick (Cuculus canorius) in a hedge sparrow’s nest. (Below) Pug dog in a human’s “nest”. Slide6: “Caesar once, seeing some wealthy strangers at Rome, carrying up and down with them in their arms and bosoms young puppy dogs and monkeys, embracing and making much of them, had occasion not unnaturally to ask whether the women in their country were not used to bear children; by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who spend and lavish upon brute beasts that affection and kindness which nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind.” Plutarch, c. AD 46-120. The ‘pet as person substitute’ idea has been around for a long time: Slide7: The “Biophilia Hypothesis” (Kellert & Wilson, 1993) Original discussion (Wilson, 1984) implied affiliation as well as attention. Recent definitions have avoided implying any inherent tendency to affiliate with animals. At best, suggests that people (esp. children) are biologically predisposed to attend to the activities of animals. Slide8: Research on the health effects of pet ownership falls into three main categories: 1. Studies of people’s immediate physiological responses (heart rate and blood pressure) to interactions with animals. 2. Epidemiological comparisons of pet owning and non-owning populations. 3. Randomized, controlled trials of pets as a form of healthcare intervention. What have these studies shown?: What have these studies shown? Sustained reductions in reactivity to experimental stressors. Less deterioration in health following negative life events (e.g. bereavement). Reduced physiological risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Improved survivorship with cardiovascular disease. Various improvements in mental health (depression, self esteem, well-being, etc.). Attached owners do better than unattached owners. Dog owners do better than cat owners. These results are consistent with the view that pets constitute a form of social support What is Social Support?Information leading a person to believe that (s)he is cared for and loved, esteemed, and a member of a network of mutual obligations (Cobb, S. 1976. Psychosomatic Med., 38: 300-24). In practice, SS tends to be broken down into the following constituents:: What is Social Support? Information leading a person to believe that (s)he is cared for and loved, esteemed, and a member of a network of mutual obligations (Cobb, S. 1976. Psychosomatic Med., 38: 300-24). In practice, SS tends to be broken down into the following constituents: Emotional support: the sense of being able to turn to others for comfort in times of stress; the feeling of being cared for by others. Social integration: the feeling of being an accepted part of an established group or social network. Esteem support: the sense of receiving positive, self-affirming feedback from others regarding one’s value, competence, abilities or worth. Practical, instrumental or informational support: the knowledge that others will provide financial, practical or informational assistance when needed. Opportunities to provide care and protection: the sense of being needed or depended upon by others. Human social support factors have been shown to protect against:: Human social support factors have been shown to protect against: Cardiovascular disease Most forms of cancer Strokes Diabetes Rheumatic fever Nephritis Pneumonia Depression and suicide. Slide12: What evidence do we have that pets serve as social support providers? People’s attachments for their dogs are strongly influenced by the animal’s behavior. (Serpell, J.A. 1996. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 47: 49-60). Pet owners whose pets are behaviorally ‘compatible’ report better mental and physical health than those with less compatible pets. (Budge, R.C. et al. 1998. Society & Animals, 6(3), 219-234) Positive relationship provisions provided by pets are comparable to, and sometimes better than, those provided by other people. (Bonas et al. 2000. In: Companion Animals & Us, eds. A.L. Podberscek et al., pp. 209-236, Cambridge: CUP). Negative relationship provisions derived from pets are less extreme than those derived from other people. (Bonas et al. 2000. In: Companion Animals & Us, eds. A.L. Podberscek et al., pp. 209-236, Cambridge: CUP). Conclusions: Conclusions Humans are intensely sociable animals. The evolutionary advantages of human sociality are so great that natural selection has favored individuals who seek out social support, particularly during times of stress, and who experience distress when socially isolated. Lack of social support limits our ability to cope with stress, and thus increases our vulnerability to ill health. Pets are able to provide many of the social provisions derived from human social support. Social support provided by pets enhances our ability to cope with stress, and thereby improves our health. Pet ownership is like ‘marriage’ – not all human-animal bonds are made in heaven.: Pet ownership is like ‘marriage’ – not all human-animal bonds are made in heaven. But………….