When Pets are More Popular than Siblings

Children can be really attached to their pets – to the point where they often prefer them to siblings, according to a new study.

Researchers surveyed 12 year old children from 77 families with one or more pets of any type and more than one child at home. Children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, with lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.

“Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” says Prof Claire Hughes at the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research.

“The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental. While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite,” Hughes said.

“While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.”

The study is a serious one, being conducted by the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare. It was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

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