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Children with avoidant or disorganized attachment relate differently to a dog and to humans during a socially stressful situation

By M. Wedl, K. Kotrschal, H. Julius, A. Beetz

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Human attachment representations are shaped in interaction with the primary caregiver and are generally transferred to further bonding/social partners later in life. According to previous evidence, primary attachment representations acquired with humans do not seem to be transferred to companion animals. This was held as a major factor why such animals would effectively provide social support also to persons with insecure attachment. The aim of this study in 19 male children, 7-11 years of age and with insecure-avoidant or disorganized attachment, was to investigate differences in their social behavior and in physiological responses when socially supported by an unfamiliar therapy dog in a socially stressful situation. The Trier Social Stress Test for Children (TSST-C) was conducted to elicit stress in the children when in the presence of the dog and a female human investigator. We found that boys with disorganized attachment ( n=11) communicated more intensely than avoidantly attached boys ( n=8) with both the dog and humans present. Boys with a disorganized attachment had more physical contact with the dog during the TSST-C and talked more to the dog during and after the TSST-C than did boys with an insecure-avoidant attachment. While the prevailing wisdom holds that attachment representations acquired with the primary human caregiver would not transfer to companion animals, our data indicate otherwise. At least components of attachment-related interaction styles, such as degree of contact seeking in verbal and tactile interactions are also displayed in interaction with animal partners.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 28
Issue 4
Pages 601-610
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1070002
Language English
Author Address Konrad Lorenz Research Station and Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Anthrozoology
  4. Boy
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Children
  9. Dogs
  10. Human behavior
  11. Humans
  12. Interactions
  13. Mammals
  14. Men
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Pets and companion animals
  17. Primates
  18. regulations
  19. Relationships
  20. sociability
  21. Social behavior
  22. Stress
  23. therapy
  24. vertebrates
  25. welfare
  1. peer-reviewed