It's well known that dogs are "man's best friend" -- and now we have science to prove it.
The emotional benefits of pet ownership can be equal to those of human friendship, according to psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University.
The findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are based on three experiments.
In part one, 217 questionnaires teasing out variables such as self-esteem, loneliness, illness, depression and activity levelￂﾠfound that pet owners scored far better overall, demonstrating less lonely tendencies and higher self-esteem.
In section two, 56 dog owners answered identical questionnaires to part one, plus offered information about how they related to their dogs. In cases when the pet "complemented rather than competed" with human companions, animal owners experienced the greatest emotional returns.
"In fact ... we repeatedly observed evidence that people who enjoyed greater benefits from their pets also were closer to other important people in their lives and received more support from them, not less," the study says.
Finally, section three asked 97 undergraduate students to write about a socially alienating experience and then write about a favorite friend or pet. Feelings of exclusion were equally remedied by passages about friends as by those focussed on pets.
Of course, this is hardly the first study supporting the idea that animals make just as good friends as they do ... pets. Previous findings have linked pet ownership "to decreased pain transmission" and found that the benefits pet ownership can especially be especially pronounced in people older than 50.
This study also found that pet owners experienced greater physical fitness and exercise, perhaps because they are walking their dogs.
Researchers believe that the data shows an animal can provide the real benefits of a best friend, just like any human companion would.
"Belongingness is considered a central need for people," they wrote. "If pets are 'psychologically close' to their owner, they may provide well-being benefits for the owner just like any other person."