being significantly healthier than individuals who no longer own a pet or have never owned apet, with pet owners making up to 15% less visits to the doctor annually.However, currently the majority of studies examining the health benefits of pets fail to take
into consideration the pet’s behaviour (Serpell, 2003),
or the nature and strength of theemotional bond between the owners and their pets (Winefield, Black & Chur-Hansen, 2008).This oversight has lead to ambiguity in the literature (Winefield, Black & Chur-Hansen,2008).Furthermore, it has been argued that this explanation of pet-keeping is unlikely due to thesubstantial costs of pet keeping (Archer, 1997). While Archer (1997) acknowledges that pet-keeping may have some health benefits, it is uncertain whether or not the health benefits of pet-keeping are adequate enough to make a sufficient contribution to our inclusive fitness(Archer, 1997).Another theory holds that pet keeping is the result of a lack of social interaction with otherhumans (Archer, 1997). For example, Hara (2007) states that childless elderly peopletypically treat their pets like children and are emotionally more dependent and attached tothem than elderly people with more human to human interaction. However, it has beenargued that pet keeping is too common and widespread for it to be viewed as an atypicalresponse (Archer, 1997). Serpell (2003) states that accepting this theory of pet-keeping
“would require us to believe that more than half of all American householders are either severely misanthropic or socially handicapped” (p.88).
An alternative theory of pet-keeping holds that pet-keeping is a spin-off of adaptivemechanisms that were originally intended to stimulate care giving responses in adults to
human infants (Archer, 2010). These features, known as “kindenschema”, were first
acknowledged by Lorenz (as cited in Archer, 2010). Care-giving responses are said to betriggered by a set of facial and physical characteristics related to infants such as a large head,large, low set eye and short and thick limbs (Lorenz, 1971).Lorenz (1971) called these social releasers. Social releasers are a somewhat simple set of characteristics. They induce an involuntary response from all members of a given species.Differences in responses can depend on factors such as gender and age (Archer, 2010). Thegender differences in responses to these social releasers will be discussed further on. A number of researchers (Archer, 1997; Budiansky, 2000 as cited in Serpell, 2003) haveexpanded this theory of pet-keeping further by suggesting that pets are social parasites
Social parasitism occurs when one species manipulates another in order to alter their behaviour in a way thatwill benefit themselves (Archer, 1997)