We all know that a dog is a mans best friend, but can that friendship be enough to make up for lack of other social involvement? Researchers at the University of Miami seem to think so. Of course this isnt the first time that studies have been conducted to determine how having a pet can benefit the owners health, but it is one of the first to examine the social relationship. Most of the people who participated in the study had similar reactions when asked about their pets as when the same questions were posed regarding their other friends.
Multiple studies took place, with the first one targeting dog owners. It was determined that dogs helped their owners achieve higher levels of social happiness regardless of the support of other people. In this case it wasnt that pets and friends were interchangeable, but rather dog ownership enhanced their owners ability to be socially satisfied.
Another study just asked separate groups of pet owners and those who didnt own pets personality based questions. The result? Pet owners were less lonely, more self-esteem, and were in better health while getting more exercise. That could be in part to the owners exercising with their pets like walking their dogs, and it wasnt determined if those characteristics were brought out by the pets or that people with those preexisting characteristics were just more likely to own pets.
The final phase involved asking participants to write about an instance when they were rejected or felt socially awkward, followed by writing about either a friend or pet or drawing a map of their college campus. In this case those who wrote about a friend or pet expressed that they felt better afterwards, while those who chose to draw didnt have any change in mood. The key here is that feelings of betterment were equal between friends and pets.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology