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Study Shows How Cats and Dogs Help People Cope With Social Rejection

By Aly Semigran    May 31, 2016 at 02:32PM / (1) comments

What's in a name? When it comes to naming a cat or a dog, it can actually mean a whole lot to a person who is dealing with social rejection. 

 

In a recent study, researchers Christina M. Brown, Allen R. McConnell, and Selena M. Hengy discovered that when people thought about—and named—animals, it helped them cope with previously upsetting moments of social rejection.

 

The study, titled "Thinking About Cats or Dogs Provides Relief From Social Rejection," is the latest from the researchers, whose prior works revealed similar findings.

 

"All of this started from a paper we published a few years ago. We saw that people who had pets on average tended to be happier and healthier people," McConnell tells petMD. "In that study, what we found was that on average, pet owners tended to be better off with things like self-esteem, stress-related illnesses, and exercise." 

 

In this latest study, however, the researchers had their subjects recall a moment of social rejection, look at photos of cats and dogs, and then name the animals. The study measured the subjects' feelings of self and social connectedness after this exercise. 

 

As it turns out, the subjects "anthropomorphized" the cats and dogs, which is, as McConnell explains, "when we view animals with human-like qualities."

 

But, what was perhaps most telling in this study was that people didn't need to have a relationship with an animal to feel a sense of relief from them. In other words, it's not just a pre-established relationship you may have with a pet of your own; rather, if you are an animal-lover in general, cats or dogs can help. 

 

"People who thought of names for animals felt better after being socially rejected," Brown explains. 

 

The study also had its subjects name toys, which garnered similar results. "When we think about anthropomorphizing, it’s a broader sense of elevating all sorts of things, whether its plastic figurines or dogs and cats," McConnell says. "When you give them a more human-like status it makes you feel less lonely after a rejection experience."

 

So what is it about animals that can cause this kind of reaction and response? McConnell theorizes a few reasons: 

 

"What seems to be happening is when people relate to pets, there’s probably a number of social benefits they get from it," she says. "First, there’s a sense of belonging that this animal 'gets' me, I can have a crappy day at work and I come home and my dog’s wagging [its] tail. For some other people it’s probably much more about control. For some its cadence with their pets—taking [the pet] for walks, caring for [the pet]… you have a meaningful role with this animal." 

 

So, the next time you're at a party and you're feeling left out, or you suddenly recall an incident from school that was embarrassing, simply think of a cat or dog, give it a name, and your mood just may change for the better. 

 

Image via Shutterstock 

 

Comments  1

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  • Love At First Sight
    06/25/2016 02:18pm

    Do you believe in Love At First Sight? For sure, this is a Puppy Tale that changed our lives forever.

    Her name was Bonny Dog, and she was a Border Collie mix originally adopted from a Louisiana Animal Shelter. The owners had to sell their home and relocate, so I was given Bonny Dog since she played through the fence with my Scotties constantly. She was just moving from one yard to another. As she had been an outside dog, she had to learn a few manners when she was inside, but she was always a quick learner! After having her "first time out", which just happened to take place spending the night outside because she ate the telephone book while I was at work, she learned immediately that her actions needed to change .

    As time went on, her 4-legged friends left to cross the Rainbow Bridge and it was just the two of us. We have constant conversations, we hugged, snuggled together, I shared my secrets with her and as needed, cried in her soft coat. It was like she fully understood what was going on in my life since she was under foot constantly.

    As happens in every life, Bonny's time came to cross over the Rainbow Bridge and I felt like I had lost everything in my life. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about her, sometimes when I am sitting outside I look up in the clouds and find a funny looking one, thinking she just may be in that one, and again, I talk with her.

    Upon my death, my cremated ashes and her ashes will be mixed together and scattered so we will never be apart again.


 
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