Your Pets Are Actually Improving Your Social Life

02/03/2014 08:51 am ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014
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If you've been wondering whether or not you should get a pet, here's a pretty good reason to: A new study reveals that young adults who have a strong connection with a pet also experience social and relationship benefits.

"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, in a statement. “The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships.”

For the study, published in the journal Applied Developmental Science, more than 500 young adults (ages 18 to 26) were surveyed about their attitudes toward and interaction with animals, as well as their general characteristics (confidence, caring, depression, etc).

Researchers found that people who reported greater care for animals were also more likely to be involved in their communities and serve in leadership roles. Plus, the more attached the person was to an animal as a teenager and young adult, the more empathetic and confident he or she was.

Previous research has shown that owning a pet can also boost physical health, in addition to mental health. A 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, for instance, showed that "pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions," said the researcher, Miami University's Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., in a statement. "Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners."

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