Could Caring for Animals Increase Positive Social Interactions in Young People?

First Posted: Jan 31, 2014 08:26 PM EST

Are you an animal lover? If so, a recent study shows that those who care for animals may be more likely to grow positive traits during youth.

Previous studies have shown mounting evidence regarding the effects of animal interaction with children in therapeutic settings. However, not much is known about how everyday actions with them can positively impact development.

"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," said the paper's author, Megan Mueller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, via a press release. "The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 500 participants aged 18 to 26 predominantly female about their attitudes and interaction with animals. Their responses were indexed against the same responses based on a range of questions from other participants that measure positive youth development characteristics.  

The study showed that young adults who cared for animals engaged in more "contribution" activities, such as community service and leadership than those who did not. Findings also showed that those with high levels of attachment to animals in late adolescents had more positive interactions and social communications with others.

"We can't draw causal links with this study but it is a promising starting point to better understanding the role of animals in our lives, especially when we are young," said Mueller, via the release.

More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Applied Developmental Science.

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