How Pets Bring Us Closer to Nature - Pet Hub USA

How Pets Bring Us Closer to Nature

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Many people spend most of their time indoors now, so pets are often one of their few connections to the natural world. But that’s not a bad thing. Science has actually found that pets bring us closer to nature.

Americans View Pets as Part of Their Family

In the United States, the majority of Americans (62%) own at least one pet. And around one-third (35%), own more than one pet, according to a 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Even more interesting is how strongly Americans feel about their pets. Nearly all of the pet owners in the U.S. (97%) say that they consider their pets to be part of their family.

Read More: 10 Reasons to Adopt an Older Dog

Animals Are Important to a Person’s Sense of Self

These latest survey results reinforce psychological studies that had similar findings. A 2019 study (McConnell et al.) also found that most people view their companion animals as “family members,” while also acknowledging that, yes, pets are still animals.

A 2011 study (McConnell et al.) also found that Americans view their pets as important to their sense of self. Psychologists concluded that people find animals to be important to who we are.

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Pets Bring Us Closer to Nature

People are outdoors much less nowadays than they were in previous decades. And not only because of their jobs. Urban sprawl has led to the decreased availability of places where we can commune with nature.

Psychologists were initially concerned that this could lead to people caring less about the environment. But because more and more people are taking on pets, those relationships have fostered a greater concern for nature.

In fall 2023, a research paper published by Jacobs et al. found that the relationship people have with their pets can lead to their desire to protect nature.

In one part of the study, researchers analyzed the extent to which people anthropomorphize pets (i.e., ascribe human-like qualities and traits to them), Psychology Today reported. It then assessed that to the extent to which people hold nature-centered motivations or perform pro-environmental behaviors. The more people viewed their pets as having emotional experiences, the more pro-environmental behaviors those people exhibited.

Following up that study, psychologists created fake articles (purportedly written by experts, but crafted by psychologists) that attempted to manipulate their perceptions. Do pets have rich or impoverished emotional lives? Those who read an article suggesting pets have strong emotional experiences were more likely to show a greater concern about nature. Those people have shown a greater commitment toward performing pro-environmental behaviors. In other words, when people ascribed stronger degrees of emotional anthropomorphism to companion animals they were more concerned about nature.

Final Thoughts

The studies seem to suggest that when people see animals as “dumb” — not having feelings or emotions similar to humans, and not affected by pain or pleasure — they tend to show less concern over nature.

However, when humans see animals as having feelings similar to our own, they are far more committed to the protection of animals and the environment.

Further, numerous studies have found that our connection to pets improves our own health and well-being (McConnell et al., 2011, 2017, 2019).

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