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Using Attachment Theory and Social Support Theory to Examine and Measure Pets as Sources of Social Support and Attachment Figures

By Michael Meehan, Bronwyn Massavelli, Nancy Pachana

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

Companion animals are increasingly being recognized by society as beneficial to our health and considered by many owners as authentic and affectional family members. Human relationship theories help us to understand the emotional and supportive aspect of the human– companion animal bond. This study uses attachment theory, social support theory, and the concept of the hierarchical nature of attachment relationships to further understand and measure human–animal attachment. In study 1,161 university-student pet owners completed a modified multidimensional scale of perceived social support (MSPSS) that included pets as a source of support, and we pre-tested a 60-item pet attachment measure. Results showed that students perceived their pets as distinctive sources of social support, at similar levels to their significant others, family, and friends. Principal components analysis of the 60-item measure reduced it to 31 items, and revealed four pet attachment components: (a) Proximity maintenance and interaction, (b) Emotional attachment behaviors, (c) Emotional support given and received, and (d) Emotional and monetary value. The scale was named the Emotional and Supportive Attachment to Companion Animals Scale (ESACA) (Cronbach’s α = 0.96). In study 2, 83 university students completed an attachment hierarchy scale and the ESACA. Companion animals were included in pet owners’ attachment hierarchies and ranked higher than siblings but lower than romantic partners, parents, and close friends. Those who indicated higher attachment to their companion animals ranked them higher in their attachment hierarchy than those less attached. This study supports and extends previous research that has used aspects of attachment theory and social support theory when exploring the human–animal bond. Many companion animal owners perceive their pets as additional sources of emotional support, fulfilling the four features of an attachment relationship and including them in their hierarchy of important attachment relationships.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 30
Issue 2
Pages 273-289
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2017.1311050
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Tags
  1. Attachment behavior
  2. Companion
  3. Emotional support
  4. Human-animal bond