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posted by hubie on Wednesday November 15, @11:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the do-you-want-to-pet-my-kitty? dept.

The vast majority of dog and cat owners will say their pets enrich their lives in countless ways and bring immeasurable levels of extra happiness, but researchers from Michigan State University suggest that most pet owners may just be telling themselves what they want to hear. Their new study found that despite owners claiming pets improve their lives, researchers did not see a reliable association between pet ownership and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic:

The pandemic was a stressful time for everyone, to put it lightly. Even the most laid-back among us found themselves overwhelmed by the lockdowns and social distancing guidelines that dominated 2020. So, the research team at MSU theorized that the pandemic represented an ideal time to study just how much comfort and happiness pets really provide to their families.

In all, the study authors assessed a total of 767 people on three separate occasions in May 2020. The research team opted to adopt a mixed-method approach that allowed them to simultaneously assess several indicators of well-being, all while also asking participants to reflect on the role of pets from their point of view in an open-ended manner. Generally, pet owners predictably reported their pets made them happy. More specifically, they said their pets helped them feel more positive emotions and provided affection and companionship.

On the other hand, the participants also articulated the dark side of pet ownership, such as worries related to their pet's well-being or having their pets interfere with working remotely.

[...] "People say that pets make them happy, but when we actually measure happiness, that doesn't appear to be the case," says William Chopik, an associate professor in MSU's Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, in a university release. "People see friends as lonely or wanting companionship, and they recommend getting a pet. But it's unlikely that it'll be as transformative as people think."

As a lifetime pet owner who's had at least a dozen dogs over the years, I take umbrage with the study's findings. My dogs are always thrilled to see me when I arrive home from a long, tiring day of work, and taking them for a walk or just being in their presence immediately lifts my spirits. And I remember the calming effect petting a cat had for my ex-wife when she was pregnant and having a bad day.

Journal Reference:
Chopik, W. J., Oh, J., Weidmann, R., et al. (2023). The Perks of Pet Ownership? The Effects of Pet Ownership on Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672231203417


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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Booga1 on Thursday November 16, @02:28AM (3 children)

    by Booga1 (6333) on Thursday November 16, @02:28AM (#1333101)

    It was focused on depression in particular.

    Many people are depressed due to situations like money, health, or relationships. Since those are mostly unrelated to the presence or absence of pets, it is unsurprising that adding a pet to someone's life doesn't cure depression.

    As for the story's study, it took place during a massive upheaval in the status quo.

    So, the research team at MSU theorized that the pandemic represented an ideal time to study just how much comfort and happiness pets really provide to their families.

    Lots of people got pets that they couldn't keep, and there's a lot of stress associated with having to rehome a pet or turn it over to a shelter. Due to the irregularities surrounding the pandemic, I'm hesitant to extend their findings into assumptions about pet ownership in the future(or past). Basically I don't think it was anywhere close to an ideal time to do this kind of study.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 16, @03:07AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 16, @03:07AM (#1333104)

    I agree. The problem I see here is that they aren't measuring the change in happiness nor well-being. To do this better, they would have needed to measure the happiness or well-being before they got a pet, then measured it while they've had the pet for a while. Because as you noted, if their happiness level is a -10 and their pets only raise it up to a -8, then they are still in negative unhappiness.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by krishnoid on Thursday November 16, @03:40AM

    by krishnoid (1156) on Thursday November 16, @03:40AM (#1333106)

    Many people are depressed due to situations like money, health, or relationships.

    Be careful not to conflate "depression" with "being depressed" due to a situation. "Depression" (not a fan of the term) is a diagnosis and possibly a treatable, persistent condition, while the situations you describe are temporary unless you live in a warzone or have a chronic illness or the like and have problems coping with it in the long-term.

  • (Score: 2) by istartedi on Thursday November 16, @05:01AM

    by istartedi (123) on Thursday November 16, @05:01AM (#1333115) Journal

    So, the research team at MSU theorized that the pandemic represented an ideal time to study just how much comfort and happiness pets really provide to their families.

    True for TFS, but my link is for a meta-analysis that started with 30 studies in 2019. Not sure about all the dates, but the article mentions one from 1999. Might need to track down the actual paper to see all the dates. He later revised the article with findings from meta-analysis of studies during and after the pandemic, at the bottom. It looks like the findings didn't change much.

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