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Pet-keeping and its link to infant features in animals

Pet-keeping and its link to infant features in animals



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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Grace Carroll. Originally submitted for Major Research Project at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, with lecturer Elizabeth Seigne in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Grace Carroll. Originally submitted for Major Research Project at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, with lecturer Elizabeth Seigne in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Pet keeping is not a new phenomenon. It is thought that animal domestication began with thewolf as far back as 20,000 years ago (Gascoigne, 2010). At that time, large mammals such asbison and woodland musk ox (Donald-McKay, 2009) were hunted by both humans andwolves. Like humans, wolves have a family-based social system. Moreover, both species aresensitive to the moods and dispositions of other group members (Gascoigne, 2010). Thesesimilarities meant that it was relatively easy for wolf cubs to adjust to living with humans(Gascoigne, 2010). Both species benefited from the relationship. Humans had weapons.Wolves had speed (Gascoigne, 2010). Over the following 4,000 years, cattle, sheep, goatsand pigs were domesticated (Gascoigne, 2010). From 3,000 B.C cats were also domesticatedand used for killing vermin.In modern times however, animals are kept not only for food, milk, wool and use in hunting,but for companionship (Archer, 1997). Much attention and affection is given to pets (Archer,1997). Evidence to support this is widespread. For example, pet owners feed their pets, payfor veterinary care and offer rewards when a pet has been lost (Archer, 1997). American petowners spent $43.2 billion in 2008 on their pets with this rate expected to increase by 5% forthe following year (Rapacon, 2009). The cost of keeping a medium sized dog for one year isestimated to be $695 per annum (Rapacon, 2009).From a Darwinian viewpoint (Archer, 1997) this poses a problem, as pet keeping may havefew apparent benefits (Archer, 2010). Natural selection favours those who act in ways thatare likely to maximize their own survival and the survival of off-spring and other bloodrelatives (Serpell, 2003). As pet animals are not a member of the family unit or indeed, thesame species (Archer, 2010), time spent feeding and caring for an animal is time abstractedfrom offspring. In addition, it does not improve inclusive fitness
. It is therefore difficult toenvisage how pet keeping evolved or why it has persisted over such a long time period(Serpell, 2003).A number of theories have been put forward, offering an explanation as to why pet keepingoccurs (Archer, 2010). One popular theory is that pet keeping has both physical andpsychological benefits for the owner (Wells, 2009). It is argued that pet animals are a sourceof social support and may even have psycho-physiological effects on pet owners (Knight &Herzog, 2009).In one instance, Headey and Grabka (2007) analysed a number of longitudinal surveys of pet-keeping from Germany and Australia. The results from the analysis identified pet owners as
Inclusive fitness is an indirect method of transferring copies of genes by giving aid to kin (Workman &Reader, 2008).
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)
that they take advantage of 
instinctive care giving nature. For example, Archer(1997) makes a comparison between the human-pet relationship and that of the relationshipbetween avian brood parasites and their host birds.Archer (2010) argues that there is evidence that pets are socially parasitic; Archer (2010)believes that humans have not evolved to respond only to infant features within the humanspecies due to the pet animals imitating human social releasers. However, Serpell (2003)notes that the validity of this comparison may be dubious as host birds are, in all probability,unaware that the brood parasite is not one of their own young. Humans conversely, are well
aware of their pet’s origins (Serpell, 2003).
Although there appears to be a strong resistance to the theory that animals are social parasites(Archer, 1997), the notion that pet-keeping occurs due to the presence of infant features inanimals remains a valid one. This is due to research carried out on human infants thatsuggests that infants possessing high infant schema prompt elevated care giving responses inadults compared to that of infants possessing low infant schema.For example, Glocker
Langleben, Ruparel, Loughead, Gur and Sachser (2009) examinedcuteness perception and motivation for care taking using manipulated infant faces thatpossessed high and low infant schema. Participants were assigned to either the cuteness task or the caretaking task (Glocker et al, 2009). The first group of participants were shown anumber of baby pictures and asked to rate the cuteness of each. The caretaking group wereshown the same images and were asked how motivated they felt to look after each infant.Infants possessing high infant schema were rated as cuter than those possessing low infantschema. Similarly, infants possessing high infant schema scored higher in the caretaking task.Findings from this study present the first experimental confirmation that high infant schemain infant faces is perceived as more attractive than low infant schema (Glocker et al, 2009). Inaddition, this study presents strong evidence that possession of high infant features provokesmotivation for caretaking in adults (Glocker et al, 2009).In a further study, Sprengelmeyer, Perrett, Fagan, Cornwell, Lobmaier and Sprengelmeyer etal (2009) investigated infant schema and
the presence of a sex difference in adults’ ability to
perceive cuteness in infants. Sprengelmeyer et al (2009) also investigated the possibility of arelationship between cuteness perception and female reproductive hormones. In order to doso, Sprengelmeyer et al (2009) examined groups of young women, using and not using oralcontraceptives, older pre and post-menopausal women, and men. Infant faces were

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Bill Benzon added this note
This looks very interesting, but it would be nice to have a list of references at the end.

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