Can pets make you a better human? Study explores the ripple effect on social and environmental attitudes

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that people who have pets and more frequent positive contact with animals develop more positive attitudes towards other non-pet animals, the biospheric environment, and other humans.   

Study: Exploring the role of our contacts with pets in broadening concerns for animals, nature, and fellow humans: a representative study. Image Credit: NatRomero / Shutterstock.com

Background

The human-pet relationship is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship that can influence the attitudes and behaviors of both humans and their pets towards each other. Empirical evidence indicates that contact with pets can trigger more positive attitudes and behaviors in humans towards other non-pet animals, such as farm animals and wild animals.

Positive changes in human attitudes and moral concerns for animals are believed to be associated with social identification with animals. Social identification with animals is a process of cognitive broadening that connects humans and animals, in addition to increasing moral concerns of humans towards different social groups.

In the current study, scientists explore whether pet ownership and contact with pets can induce more positive attitudes in humans towards non-pet animals, the environment, fellow humans, and meat consumption. The researchers also determine whether these positive attitudes are triggered by the process of social identification with pets.    

Study design

The study primarily focused on two types of contact with pets, including pet ownership and frequency of positive contact with pets. A total of 619 pet owners and 450 non-pet owners residing in Canada were enrolled in the study.   

All study participants were provided with a questionnaire to report their attitudes towards non-pet animals, the biospheric environment, and fellow humans. The levels of their social identification with animals in three dimensions, including human-animal similarity, solidarity with animals, and animal pride, were also determined through the questionnaire-based survey.  

Important observations

A higher social identification with animals in all three dimensions was observed among pet owners as compared to non-pet owners. The frequency of positive contact with pets and positive attitudes towards non-pet animals and fellow humans were also higher among pet owners.

Regarding attitudes toward the environment, pet owners were associated with higher biospheric environmental concerns and stronger beliefs in human-environment interdependence than non-pet owners. Moreover, a lower weekly meat consumption was found among pet owners compared to non-pet owners.

Like pet ownership, more frequent positive contact with animals was also associated with most of these study variables.

Impact of the dimensions of social identification with pets

The researchers also explored whether the dimensions of social identification with pets can predict the study variables.

Among the three dimensions, solidarity with animals was identified as the most consistent predictor of the study variables. Higher solidarity with animals was found to independently predict more positive contact with animals, more positive attitudes towards non-pet animals and fellow humans, higher biospheric environmental concerns and beliefs in human-environment interdependence, lower consumption of meat, and lower social dominance orientation.

Regarding other dimensions, higher human-animal similarity was found to independently predict lower social dominance orientation. Higher animal pride was also found to independently predict higher consumption of meat.

The mechanistic analysis revealed that more positive contact with animals is associated with higher human-animal similarities, which is subsequently associated with lower social dominance orientation. This finding indicates that individuals who perceive pets as a “higher status group” are less likely to believe in a hierarchy that differentiates between individuals belonging to diverse social statuses.   

The association between more positive contact with animals and higher solidarity with animals was found to positively impact beliefs in human-environment interdependence. Furthermore, the association between more positive contact with animals and higher solidarity with animals was found to influence weekly meat consumption.

Study significance

The study highlights the significance of having pets in human lives in terms of shaping human consideration for a broad range of social issues. The study finds that individuals who reside with pets develop more positive attitudes and moral concerns towards non-pet animals, fellow humans, and the biospheric environment.   

The data-driven approach, as well as rigorous methodological and statistical approaches utilized in the current study, will help facilitate more research interest in human-pet relationships.

Journal reference:
  • Amiot, C. E., Gagne, C., & Bastian, B. (2023). Exploring the role of our contacts with pets in broadening concerns for animals, nature, and fellow humans: a representative study. Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-43680-z.
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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