Does Having An Emotional Connection With An Animal (Or Pet) Influence A Person Subjective Well-Being?



This study will focus on determining whether having an emotional connection with a pet can influence a person’s subjective wellness. Since time in memorial, human beings have always had a special relationship with some animals like dogs and cats. However, the benefits associated with this relationship are yet to be fully explored in a scientific research. Previous studies have only focused on the negative aspects of mental health as well as the physical benefits of human-pet relationships. Happiness or subjective well-being is one of the many positive aspects of mental health that is yet to be explored when it comes to the relationship between human beings and pets. It is therefore important to investigate whether pets can fulfill a person’s social and psychological needs like fellow human beings. There is very little literature or evidence to demonstrate the well-being benefits of having an emotional connection with pets. The existing knowledge gap when it comes to psychological benefits of pet-ownership makes this study to be of great significance to the field of social psychology. This study will involve an online survey with 200 participants recruited using Amazon Mechanical Turk. The online survey will be administered though the participants’ emails. The analysis of data collected from this study will be done using the ANOVA method. The key variables in this study will include mediators like attachment style, depression, subjective happiness personality, self-esteem, pet anthropomorphism, and loneliness. 


Pet ownership has become a major trend in most parts of the world, which is attributed to perceived material, social, and psychological benefits associated with pets. According to Smolkovic, Fajfar and Mlinaric (2012), the emotional connection between companion animals and human beings cannot be ignored considering the number of households that currently own pets. For instance, a recent survey indicated one in every three households in the United Sates owns a pet, and it is interesting to know that the pets are actually considered as family members. In fact, Smolkovic, Fajfar and Mlinaric (2012) observe that some people spend more than $10,000 on a cat or dog and this may sometimes not make a lot of sense. However, pet owners believe that the animals play a critical role in improving their subjective well-being, longevity and, overall human health. Some previous studies indicate that human beings are guaranteed a longer and happier life when they from an emotional connection with a cat or dog (Smolkovic, Fajfar & Mlinaric, 2012). Such findings get a lot of coverage in the media but negative stories or reports about the relationship between human beings and pets get less coverage. It is interesting to know that some studies have revealed that pet ownership does not have any effect on social, physical, and psychological wellbeing of human beings. Such conflicting reports on the psychological and social benefits of pets calls for a more thorough investigation of this subject.  

This study will play a critical role in confirming whether having an emotional connection with a pet can influence a person’s subjective well-being or not.  Subjective well-being can be explained as evaluations, emotions and moods that define a person’s satisfaction with specific or general aspects of life (Bao & Schreer, 2016). Individuals evaluate their lives based on cognitive judgments and affective reactions. According to Bao and Schreer (2016), subjective well-being s in most cases associated with pleasant feelings, moods and emotions such as affection, elation, joy.  In other words, subjective well being can also be considered as happiness. This study is important because it will highlight the impact of emotional connection with a pet can affect the mental well being of an individual. Bao and Schreer (2016) observe that the majority of previous studies on this subject have always focused on the impact of pet ownership on the physical wellbeing and the findings from this study will try to fill this gap. Currently, there is no convincing evidence to confirm that having an emotional connection with a bet can lead to happiness.

Furthermore, previous studies only focused on the negative aspects of mental well-being, but this study will handle a positive aspect of mental wellbeing (Bao & Schreer, 2016). Subjective well-being is a perfect example of a positive aspect of mental well being. This research is critical to the field of social psychology in the sense that there is limited literature and information on the social and psychological impacts of human-animal interactions. Pets have become a major part in the social life of most individuals and it is important to study such interactions an as well as their impacts on social-wellbeing of human beings. Also, there is a need to fill the existing knowledge gaps when it comes to human-animal interactions. Research design problems and replication issues are some of the reason why there are conflicting findings on this subject. Therefore, the fact that there are many conflicting results when it comes to the exact impact of pets on a person’s wellbeing calls for a detailed scientific research on the subject. 

Significance of the Study

Findings from this research will help social psychologists to understand how relationship with other species such as dogs and cats contributes the general principles of behavior. There have been numerous studies in the last three decades trying to investigate the effect of pets on human happiness, but most of the hypotheses remain uncorroborated. Most of the studies about human-animal interactions are based on general reports by pet-owners. Such reports cannot be proved hence making it difficult for researchers to have objective data that can make them come up with rational conclusions. This study will examine all the major components of subjective well-being in order to address the existing contradictions on how a person’s subjective well-being is affected by having an emotional connection with a pet. Moreover, pet owners and not-pet owners will have a better understanding of one of the benefits associated with having an emotional connection with pets. 

Problem Statement

The best way to understand the nature of human beings is by studying how they relate with other species. Individuals that own pets believe that the animals are very important in their lives and such claims are normally based on their personal convictions. However, it is important to understand that such convictions should not be confused with scientific evidence. There is a need to subject such claims by pet owners to scientific studies in order to come up with conclusive evidence. The social and psychological benefits of having and emotional connection with animals should be subjected to the required standards when it comes to evidence. It is important to treat such claims the same way as a new drug, types of psychotherapy, or the discovery of a new medical device. A new drug or medical device cannot be used without scientific evidence to support its usability. Therefore, it is important to subject all the claims associated with the effect of pets on a person’s subjective well-being to the same standards of evidence. 

Subjective well-being is associated with three major components that include fewer negative emotions, many positive emotions, and high overall life satisfaction. The three components of subjective well being are yet to be studied extensively and that is why there is limited literature on all the three components. In fact, there is no single study that has been able to tackle all the three subjective wellbeing components in the same study. Previous studies on this subject have always led to contradictory findings and the only explanation has been failure to examine all the wellbeing components. Therefore, the only way to have a comprehensive understanding of how an emotional connection with a pet affects a person subjective wellbeing is by considering all the three components. 

Research Questions 

The research questions include:

  • Does having an emotional connection with an animal or pet affect a person’s subjective well-being
  • Do pet owners exhibit different attachment styles and personality traits as compared to non-pet owners
  • Are there any subjective well-being differences between pet owners and non-pet owners
  • Are there any differences in subjective well-being between dog owners and cat owners

Study Hypotheses

The hypotheses for this study include:

  • Having an emotional connection with an animal (or pet) has an influence on a person’s  subjective well-being
  • Pet owners shave different attachment styles and personality types as compared to non-pet owners
  • There are differences in subjective wellbeing between pet owners and non-pet owners
  • There are no differences in subjective well-being between dog owners and cat owners
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McConnell et al. (2011) observe that regular interaction with pets creates an emotional connection that in turn stimulates positive emotions such as joy, a positive mood, and a sense of calmness. Such emotions constitute what is commonly referred to as subjective wellbeing. Study findings have revealed that an emotional connection with a pet reduces depressive symptoms in human beings (McConnell et al., 2011). A study that was conducted in elderly nursing homes for a period of two years revealed a significant reduction in stress among elders living in a nursing home with a resident dog as compared to those in homes without a resident dog. According to Clark Cline (2010), subjective wellbeing is a product of cardiovascular and endocrinological parameters that promote a feeling of happiness. Human interaction with animals has a significant effect on transmitters like norepineprine and epinephrine as well as hormonal stress indicators such as cortisol (Clark Cline 2010). Research findings indicated that emotional connection with a pet like a dog or cat affects endocrine responses in a positive way by instigating changes in the levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol. 

Clark Cline (2010) states that stressors normally elicit anxiety and fear, but investigations reveal that this can be reduced through animal contact. Researchers were encouraged to pursue this subject after an initial study revealed that there was some health benefits associated with emotional connection with animals. A study involving 92 heath-attack victims revealed that pet owners survived extra days as compared to non-pet owners (Gilbey & Tani, 2015). This finding prompted social psychologists to start investigating the positive effects associated with human interaction with pets. Recent studies have revealed that it is possible to reduce stress levels and blood pressure by simply stroking caressing your cat or dog. Furthermore, researchers have also confirmed that having an emotional connection with pets has a wide range of psychological benefits such as lower levels of loneliness, greater life satisfaction, more positive moods, and higher self-esteem (Clark Cline, 2010). According to Gilbey and Tani (2015), epidemiologists believe that better well-being among human beings can also be connected to pet ownership. A survey involving 11,000 Australians and Germans revealed that pet owners were in a better physical condition as compared to non-pet owners (Waytz, Cacioppo & Epley, 2010). Further studies indicated that pet owners sleep better, exercise more, and are less likely to miss work as compared to non-pet owners. 

Waytz, Cacioppo and Epley (2010) observe that the existing literature on the relationship between human beings and animals is skewed, and that is why there is a need to take more objective approaches in future studies. A general study that was conducted in Australia indicated that cat owners had higher ratings when it comes to psychological health as compared study participants that did not own cats. According to Waytz, Cacioppo and Epley (2010), a more specific study revealed that individuals facing stressful events such as homelessness, illnesses and bereavement are more likely to experience less stress when they have a pet as their companion.  

Bernstein et al. (2008) agree that pets provide a need for responsibility and companionship that reduces loneliness and depression. Bereaved elderly subjects and widows that participated in the study and had pets recorded less symptoms of psychological and physical disease. In a study conducted by Bernstein et al. (2008), feelings of happiness and less depression were linked to a strong attachment to pets. A another group of studies involving AIDS patients revealed that those that had an emotional connection with pets had a sense of purpose and reduced stress  as  compared to aids patients who were non-pet owners (Bernstein et al., 2008). According to Wu (2009), most AIDS patients have few confidants due to stigmatization and therefore owning a pet reduces loneliness and in the process reducing instances of depression. Pets that are psychologically close to the owner tend to improve the well-being and happiness of the owner. Wu (2009) observes that individuals that are socially disconnected or excluded turn to their pets for companionship and happiness. The central need for human beings is belongingness and pets provide an opportunity for a social connection. Beck and Madresh (2008) are of the opinion that a pet that is emotionally connected with the owner tends to provide similar wellbeing befits like happiness that be provided by fellow humans. In order to deal with a sense of disconnectedness, human beings anthropomorphize pets through an emotional connection. Beck and Madresh (2008) observe that human beings with healthier personalities such as greater conscientiousness and secure attachment end up having a strong emotional attachment to their pests and this might lead to subjective wellbeing. On the other hand, pets can address the social shortcomings associated with owners that have less healthy personalities such as greater neuroticism and more fear.

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Research Design 

This research will be conducted using the online survey method. The survey questionnaire questions for this study will be created and published online using the MYSQL database management systems and the PHP programming language. The participants will then complete the online survey questionnaires within a period of two weeks after providing and informed consent. In this study, the participants will be paid $2 as enticement to respond to the questions. The survey questionnaire will include a wide range of questions. The participants will be expected to answer demographic questions, questions about their personality and wellbeing, and also confirm whether they are pet owners or not. In addition, the will be two other sections on the questionnaire with each meant for pet owners and non-pet owners. In other words, there will be an extra section for each group. The questionnaire scale will be linked with questions will be linked with different type of scale that are meant to measure the level of subjective wellness.  

The 1-7 Likert type scale will be used for each aspect or variable of subjective wellness that will be measured in this study. In this case, the scale of 7 means that the respondent strongly agrees and a scale of 1 means that the respondent strongly disagrees. Some of the scales that will be part of the questionnaire include Individual Differences in Anthropomorphism, Need Satisfaction Scale, Emotion Regulation Scale, Modified Differential Emotion Scale, Satisfaction with Life Scale, and the Subjective Happiness Scale.  The major subjective well-being measures in the study will include depression, self-esteem, loneliness, subjective happiness, personality, pet anthropomorphism, and attachment style. The survey questionnaire for this study will include closed ended and open-ended questions. This study will adopt a cross-sectional study approach as data will only be collected at a particular point in time. The cross-sectional approach is appropriate for this study because it is affordable, allows for more specific testing, and guarantees. It the most suitable when looking for data to support a particular hypothesis. 

Sampling Technique

This study will use the simple random sampling method when it comes to selecting the participants. Random sampling takes less time and also guarantees more representative outcomes. In this case, chances of having skewed results are minimized. The interested participants in this study will make applications through an online platform and the final list of 200 selected through simple random sampling. In this case, all the applicants will have an equal chance to be selected among the 200 participants. 

Rationale for the Selected Research Method

This study will use an online survey method to collect data due to a number of reasons.  To begin with, the method guarantees high representativeness as it is possible to collect data from many participants within short period of time (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). The data being collected from the general population provides an accurate representation of the attributes of a large population. It is possible to determine relative characteristics of a particular sample due to large number of participants that are involved in surveys. In this case, it will be possible to collect data from 200 participants within a very short period of time. Second, a survey is very affordable as compared to other methods of data collection. Survey questionnaires can be produced at a lower cost. Also, you only need a small incentive for each participant in instances where you want to collect data from a larger population. Other method of data collection such as personal interviews and focus groups cost more as respondents request for higher incentives in order to participate in the studies (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). The survey method is therefore appropriate for this study considering the high number of participants. Each participant will only be paid $2 as an enticement. 

Third, the survey method is suitable for this study because it allows for convenient data gathering. The fact that surveys in his case will be administered online through emails means that the target participants will be able to complete the survey questionnaires from the comfort of their homes or offices. According to Sapsford ‎and Jupp (2006), online surveys make it possible to collect data from different parts of the country. As mentioned earlier, this leads to a more representative sample that eventually leads to a more representative data. Fourth, a survey eliminates all possible biases by the researcher as it guarantees high reliability. There is standardized stimulus for all participants involved in the study, and this makes the survey questionnaire method suitable for scientific research (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). This study is scientific and that is why this data collection method will be appropriate. Finally, surveys guarantee precise results due to standardization. The participants respond to questionnaire questions that have standardized definitions. Therefore, the collected data can be measured accurately. 

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Detailed Discussion of the Data Collection Method

A survey involves collecting data from group of people for statistical analysis (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). Conclusions are made based on the collected data. Survey questionnaires are in most cases used as data collection instruments in a survey. According to Sapsford ‎and Jupp (2006), survey questionnaires consist of a set of predefined questions that are meant to extract the required information from the respondent. In a survey research, one has to identify a population of interest before they can begin data collection (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). Survey questions are design for a selected subgroup of the population. A survey questionnaire can include open-ended questions, closed-ended questions or both. For closed-ended questions, there are predetermined responses while open-ended questions require participants to answer in their own words (Sapsford ‎& Jupp, 2006). A good survey should avoid double-barreled questions and biased phrases. Sensitive questions normally come at the end of the survey to avoid triggering emotions at the beginning of the process. There are three different ways of administering surveys and these include face-to-face, by telephone, and through mail. 

Proposed Participants

The participants in this study will include 200 adults (100 females and 100 males). A crowdsource online platform known as Amazon Mechanical Turk will be used to recruit participants for this study. Both pet owners and non-owners will be allowed to make an application. Participants must be American citizens aged between 18 and 70 years. Each of the participants will be paid $2 as an enticement fee to participate in the study. 

Appropriateness of the Sample Population

The population is appropriate for the nature of the study as well as the available resources for the study.  The sample population will be able to guarantee precise results as it only involves adults that have interest in the subject of study. The margin of error will be low due to the high confidence level expected from participants, and this that will also increase the response rate.  The variation in the sample population is also appropriate for this kind of study. 

Recruitment and Human Subject Concerns and Solutions

As mentioned earlier, it is not easy to recruit 200 participants with the set specifications in a short period of time. Therefore, an internet crowd sourcing platform will be used to recruit participants. All the participants that qualify for this study will make their application through Amazon Mechanical Turk. This study will involve human subjects and this means there will be some concerns by the subjects that will need to be addressed before, during and after the study. Some of the most notable concerns include privacy and confidentiality issues, availability of an enticement, social risks, legal risks, and mere inconvenience. However, these concerns will be addressed through; confidentiality and privacy assurances, paying participants to entice them, avoiding sensitive questions, and seeking informed consent. As mentioned earlier, this study guarantees anonymity of participants and will provide incentives for the participants to induce participation.   

Data Analysis Method

This study will apply the Analysis of Variance Method (ANOVA) method to analyze data. The method is normally used to test three or more variables in scientific study (Zhang, 2013). In addition, this analysis method is the most appropriate when it comes to explaining observations. According to Zhang (2013), this is statistical procedure that reveals the degree of variance between two groups that are involved in an experiment. In this case, the two groups under investigation are pet owners and non-pet owners. There are three assumptions associated with the ANOVA procedure that must be put into consideration when it comes to data analysis. The assumptions include similarities in population variances for the two groups, normal distribution in each group’s observation, and independent observations when it comes to each group (Zhang, 2013). In this case, data from the two population groups will be divided into two separate groups. The pairs of means in the study will then be compared using different two-sample t-tests. The ANOVA table will then be prepared using results of computations. 


The relationship between subjective well-being and emotional connection with a pet will be defined by mediators. The mediators in this study include depression, pet anthropomorphism, self-esteem, loneliness, attachment style, subjective happiness, and personality. Subjective well-being is a very wide subject, and it is always important to study a wide range of variables in order to come up with conclusive findings. 

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General Principals of behavior can only be determined by studying how a human being relates with other human beings as well as how they relate with other species. This study will help in finding out how the subjective well-being of a person is influenced by having an emotional connection with pets. There have been previous studies about the relationship between human beings and animals but most have led generalized findings. Pet owners come up with claims about the benefits associated with owning a pet but there is no substantive evidence to support these claims. Furthermore, this study will help to end some of the major contradictions that are associated with previous research on this subject. This study will provide considerable evidence on how pets benefit the owners psychologically. The findings from this study will be critical in helping scholars in the social psychology field to increase their knowledge of the major psychological process associated with the human perceptions on pets. There is a need for future research to focus on the impact of pet ownership on special populations such as populations with mobility challenges or those that are socially isolated. Happiness is an issue that needs to be studied for quite some time and that is why a cross-sectional study like the one in this case may not guarantee accurate results. A single study like this makes it difficult to conclude that having an emotional connection with a pet influences a person’s subjective well-being. In order to fully understand the relationship between subjective wellbeing and pet ownership, it is important to study the participants for quite some time in a longitudinal research. There is always a tendency by pet owners to go back to baseline levels of well-being after being with a pet for quite some time. The initial stages of adoption are normally characterized by excitement and happiness but this can change after some period. Therefore, relying on s single study may not guarantee accurate results.  Furthermore, a longitudinal study can also help when it comes to finding out if there is any difference in happiness between a dog owner and a cat owner. The complex nature of the relationship between human beings needs some clarification and this can only be achieved through experimental research. 

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  8. Smolkovic, I., Fajfar, M.  & Mlinaric, V. (2012). Attachment to pets and interpersonal relationships. Journal of European Psychology Students, 3, 15-23.
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