Human-Pet Attachment

Posted May 10th, 2010 at 10:19 am.

Elizabeth Madresh

Mentor: Dr. Beck

Many people believe that humans have substantial relationships with animals. However, science has yet to understand the mechanisms that drive this connection. Some people wonder whether close relationships between pets and humans should be viewed in a negative or positive light. Anecdotally, there have been many stories that tell the delights of pet ownership as well as the horrors. Everyone has heard extreme stories on both ends of the spectrum, such as: a pet saving a child from drowning or a millionaire spending a small fortune on a diamond dog collar. Unfortunately, millions of pet owners do not fall into these extreme cases. Rather, they have typical satisfying interactions that are overlooked. The modest amount of empirical research conducted on human-pet attachment has left many aspects of pet attachment a mystery.

In order to gain a social psychology perspective on pet attachment, we are conducting a pet owner survey that is based on Bartholomew and Horowitz’s (1991) model of attachment. This model of attachment describes two dimensions of attachment: anxious (the extent to which someone has a negative self image) and avoidant (how someone views others, as supportive or unsupportive). Bartholomew explains that people fall somewhere along these two dimensions, forming four categories: secure, preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. If someone falls in the secure attachment style category, they tend to have a positive self image and also view others as supportive. A preoccupied attachment is when a person has a negative self image, yet views others as supportive. Dismissing attachment is when a person has a positive self image, yet views others as unsupportive. Finally, a fearful attachment is when a person has a negative self image and feels others are unsupportive.

Some questions we wish to know are: Do pet-human attachment styles vary (fall into four categories) similarly to human-human attachment styles? Can the ECR-R and RQ be adapted to apply across relationship domains? Also, do pet-human attachments correlate with human-human attachment? In order to delve into some of these questions, we are using two pre-existing surveys about human attachments based on of Bartholomew’s four category model. We are altering the items on Brennan et al.’s (2000) Experience in Close Relationship Questionnaire—Revised (ECR-R), and Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991)’s Relationship Questionnaire (RQ) to make it applicable to pets. Our survey will have both human-human and pet-human attachment questions. After the data have been collected, we will compare the human-pet attachments to human-human attachments.

We hypothesize that our rewritten scales will be useful for measuring attachment styles across relationship domains. In addition, we predict that attachment styles with pets will only vary on the avoidant dimension of attachment. Since a pet is often viewed as a non-evaluative other, we expect that a person will not feel as though the animal is being unsupportive. Thus, the two dimensional scale for human-human attachment will be unidimensional for pet attachment. Additionally, we will explore whether specific attachment styles with humans are associated with the same attachment style with pets whether certain pets (dog, cat, etc) associate with specific attachment styles. In answering these questions we wish to bring further understanding of pet-human attachment and add to the social psychology research previously done on attachment styles.

Filed under: 2005,Beck, Dr.,Madresh, Elizabeth by Ann Dixon

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