Relational provisions from pets in the context of the family : implications for perceived social support and human health
This thesis examines how the psychology of human relationships can be applied to the phenomenon of pet ownership. Current views on the origins of pet ownership and reasons for its popularity, and the application of concepts from the psychology of human-human relationships to human-pet relationships are reviewed. The most popular model, attachment theory, is critically evaluated and examined empirically in a preliminary study. Attachment seems not to provide a satisfactory model. A functional approach, investigating what human-pet relationships do rather than what relationships they resemble, was pursued in the remainder of the thesis. Individuals in a pet-owning family may all interact with the pet in quite different ways, yet are often all labelled equally as pet owners. Investigation of human-pet relationships in the family context facilitated an analysis of characteristics of owning a pet, such as exclusivity. Differences among human-pet relationships were examined according to family role of the owner, and pet species. Pets are frequently regarded as members of their owners' social network, and as a source of relational provisions at levels which are in some cases comparable to those from human relationships. For some pet owners, support from pets may have a buffering effect against stressful life events, and protect owners against adverse psychological symptoms. Important differences were found between species. Dogs provide higher levels of provisions than cats, and cats are rated more highly than other pet species. There is therefore a need for caution against generalising from one species to pets in general. The social provisions approach is shown to be productive, but it is not the only model from human social relationships that might be used, and alternative or complementary models should also be explored.