While pet ownership may confer physical and psychological health benefits, existing research presents inconsistent findings, and the psychological mechanisms through which health benefits might be conferred are unknown. Exploring human-pet relationships from the perspectives of Bowlby's attachment theory, namely "attachment-related anxiety" and "attachment-related avoidance," and Rogers' core conditions including "unconditional positive regard" and "empathy" may highlight the psychological mechanisms involved. This study compared quality of life (QOL) and psychopathology in pet owners with those without pets. In the pet owners, we additionally assessed pet attachment, and perceived empathy, unconditionality, and congruence in the human-pet relationships. We then compared the relative value of Bowlby's attachment versus Rogers' core conditions in human-pet relationships as predictors of wellbeing in pet owners. Overall, pet owners and non-pet owners did not significantly differ in terms of QOL or psychopathology. However, in pet owners, secure pet attachments were associated with lower psychological distress and psychopathology, and those perceiving higher levels of Rogers' core conditions from their pets had higher QOL. Bowlby's pet attachment insecurity predicted psychological distress and psychopathology, while Rogers' total core conditions in pets were significantly predictive of QOL of owners. Differences in wellbeing may not be reliably discernable between pet owners and non-pet owners, as wellbeing is related not to pet ownership alone but to qualities of individual human-pet relationships. The results provide new information about psychological mechanisms through which human-pet interactions are conferred, and support for the applicability of both Bowlby's and Rogers' concepts.
Available for download on Friday, November 20, 2020