The current work investigated how viewing one’s pet as a family member improves wellbeing. We hypothesized that including pets in a key social ingroup (i.e., family) would increase ascriptions of socially supportive traits to these animals, enhancing their perceived ability to provide social support to owners, which in turn promotes owner wellbeing. Study 1 used a correlational design and showed positive relations between viewing one’s companion animal as a family member, greater perceptions of socially supportive traits, and better wellbeing as indexed by several measures of mental and physical health. Study 2 experimentally manipulated the extent to which participants viewed their pets as family members and found that inducing people to view companion animals as family members improved wellbeing. This study also provided evidence for the mediating role of socially supportive anthropomorphism, and it ruled out a mood-based alternative account. Pets can play an important role in providing social support that can improve people’s mental and physical health, and the processes underlying how animals can be included in people’s most important ingroup shed light on the psychology underlying how group memberships affect perceptions of humanity.
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