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Cal State East Bay Psychology Professor Examines People’s Attachments to Pets

  • February 24, 2015 12:00am

Do neurotic people make better pet owners? Do conscientious people show more affection for their pets?

Those are just some of the questions examined in a recent paper co-authored by Gretchen Reevy, a faculty member in Cal State East Bay's Psychology Department, and Mikel M. Delgado, UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in psychology and Cal State East Bay alumna.

The article, titled "Are Emotionally Attached Companion Animal Caregivers Conscientious and Neurotic? Factors That Affect the Human-Companion Animal Relationship," was published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science in December 2014.

The article explores people's attachments to their pets. "Few studies have examined how personality traits might be related to the amount and types of attachments humans have toward companion animals," Reevy said.

Reevy and Delgado surveyed nearly 1,100 pet owners using the Big Five Inventory, the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale, and the Pet Attachment Questionnaire. Each participant was asked whether he or she identified as a "cat person," "dog person," both or neither, and answered survey questions in relation to their favorite pet (a cat, a dog or other).

Results indicated that neuroticism, conscientiousness, choosing a dog as a favorite pet, and identifying as a cat person, dog person, or both predicted affection for a pet.

Pet owners who were found to be conscientious, extraverted and "open" were low in the measure of avoidant attachment to pets. Avoidant attachment refers to being less trusting and attentive in a relationship. Neuroticism was associated with anxious attachment to pets. Anxious attachment refers to having a high need for closeness with and reassurance from the object of attachment and can involve "clingy" behavior.

The researchers found that dogs and cats could benefit from pet owners who are conscientious. Additionally the pair found there might be some benefits to pets owned by people who are high in neuroticism, who are reporting high affection for the pet, and whose clinginess may not harm pets in ways that clinginess could cause harm in relationships between humans.

"The findings of this study will advance understanding of the human-animal bond," Delgado said. "As this understanding increases, measurements of human attachment and personality might be useful in developing tools that could assist animal shelter employees and veterinarians in counseling people about pet ownership."

Reevy has been teaching at Cal State East Bay since 1994. In addition to the human-companion animal bond, her research interests include psychological issues concerning non-tenure-track university faculty and personality predictors of college achievement.

Delgado's dissertation research at UC Berkeley is focused on the cognition of food-storing fox squirrels. Additional research interests include human-animal interactions and individual differences (personality) in non-human animals.

Read their entire article here.

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