Pets: our unwavering companions, our constant supporters, our best buddies. A wagging tail or an affectionate snuggle is something we’re not taking for granted these days. And it’s reminding us how powerful the bond between person and pet really is.
Maggie O’Haire, PhD, is a professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University’s Center for the Human-Animal Bond. Her research focuses on figuring out why animals are just so good for us, as well as how we can use these special bonds to improve our overall health and well-being. Along with Leanne Nieforth, MS, who does research with her at Purdue, O’Haire has some good news about pets during coronavirus: If you have one, it’s probably helping. And if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to reap the benefits of interacting with animals from afar.
A Q&A with Maggie O’Haire, PhD, and Leanne Nieforth, MS
Why do humans bond so powerfully with their pets?
Nieforth: There are many theories as to why humans can bond so powerfully with pets. The first is the biophilia hypothesis, which essentially means that humans are innately drawn to living things. This fascination has an evolutionary basis in that a human’s chance of survival increases through attention toward and knowledge of their environment.
A second explanation is attachment theory, which describes the deep emotional bond that can occur between living beings. The bonds that humans create are adaptive for survival. In bonding with pets, humans create a sense of companionship as well as a source of social support. The nonjudgmental support humans perceive from their pets may not only help emotions but also provide the opportunity to increase interaction and engagement with other humans as well.