NORTH GRAFTON, Mass. (January 31, 2014)Young adults who care for an animal may have stronger social relationships and connection to their communities, according to a paper published online today in Applied Developmental Science.
While there is mounting evidence of the effects of animals on children in therapeutic settings, not much is known about if and how everyday interactions with animals can impact positive youth development more broadly.
"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. "The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships."
Mueller surveyed more than 500 participants, aged 18-26 and predominately female, about their attitudes and interaction with animals. Those responses were indexed against responses the same participants had given on a range of questions that measure positive youth development characteristics such as competence, caring, confidence, connection, and character, as well as feelings of depression, as part of a national longitudinal study, the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, which was led by Tufts Professor of Child Development Richard Lerner, Ph.D., and funded by the National 4-H Council.
Young adults who cared for animals reported engaging in more "contribution" activities, such as providing service to their community, helping friends or family and demonstrating leadership, than those who did not. The more actively they participated in the pet's care, the higher the contribution scores. The study also found that high levels of attachment to an animal in late adolescence and young adulthood were positivel
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Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus