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PetHuman Relationships

decisions was shown to be highly reciprocal between mothers and fathers. That is, being open to a marital partners persuasion increased the effectiveness of ones own persuasive attempts. This research highlights the unique persuasive dynamics that can exist in close relationships, and it suggests that a relational approach is likely to be generative for researchers interested in persuasion and social relationships alike. Geoff MacDonald and Dominic J. Packer
See also Communication Processes, Verbal; Conflict, Family; Conflict, Marital; Conflict Resolution; Dialectical Processes; Family Communication; Interpersonal Influence

More than half of the households in the Englishspeaking world have pets. Currently, more American households have a dog than have a child. In the United States, there are more than 70 million pet dogs and at least 75 million pet cats. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on their pets, and in national surveys, 90 percent report that their pets are important and cherished members of the family who make them feel calm, happy, and able to handle stress in their lives. Pet owners also emphasize that pets add a muchneeded element of nature to their fast-paced and technologically oriented lives. Given that pets require a large investment of time and resources, it is sensible to consider the nature of pethuman relationships and the types of benefits that may result from such relationships. The idea of animals as significant companions to humans is not new; one of the earliest literary references occurs in Homers Odyssey, in which the otherwise brutal Cyclops, Polyphemus, expresses warm emotion to his favorite ram. What is more recent, however, is the notion that pets are integral members of the family and society, and that they can contribute favorably to the mental and physical health of humans. Although in 1859, Florence Nightingale noted that pets can be excellent companions for people who are ill, it was not until the 1950s that the first journal articles about pets as adjunctive therapists appeared. Over the following decades, hundreds of additional studies have been done by researchers in the fields of psychology, sociology, medicine, nursing, veterinary medicine, ethology, anthropology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. In these studies, a wide variety of topics have been addressed, including: humanpet relationships and interaction, pets as social support, pets and human blood pressure, pet loss and human grief and mourning, legislation and pets, pets and chronic illness, pets and children, and pets and people who are elderly. Selected findings of recent research are provided next.

Further Readings
Chaiken, S. (1980). Heuristic versus systematic information processing and the use of source versus message cues in persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 752766. Eagly, A. H., & Chaiken, S. (1993). The psychology of attitudes. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Hsiung, R. O., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2003). Validating the relationship qualities of influence and persuasion within the family social relations model. Human Communication Research, 29, 81110. Perloff, R. M. (2003). The dynamics of persuasion (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). Communication and persuasion: Central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer-Verlag. Wilson, S. R., & Morgan, W. M. (2004). Persuasion and families. In A. L. Vangelisti (Ed.), Handbook of family communication (pp. 447471). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Pethuman relationshiPs
Pets provide a type of close social relationship that may augment or sometimes substitute for relationships with people. In national surveys about pet ownership, the most frequent reasons given for having pets are that they provide friendship, companionship, nonjudgmental social support, and protection from loneliness. The totally nonjudgmental aspect of support is described as an endearing quality unique to pets.

HumanPet Interaction
The most common role that pet animals fulfill is that of companion and friend. Most pet owners form bonds with their animals that are in many

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ways similar to relationships they have with other people. For example, pet owners often spend a great deal of time engaged in activities with their pets, they confide intimate feelings and thoughts to their pets, and they express strong feelings of love and affection to pets. In addition, pet owners express the belief that their feelings of love are reciprocated and that their pets help them solve problems by listening.
Marriage and Pets

Research about social interaction has explored how married couples, with and without pets, interact with each other and with their pets. Daily diaries of social interaction were recorded by husbands and wives while at home, work, and social gatherings. Blood pressure and heart rate were recorded during discussions about topics such as finances, relatives, in-laws, and where to spend vacations. Findings include that, relative to couples without pets, pet owners had significantly greater closeness and satisfaction in marriage, more frequent interactions with each other, and lower cardiovascular responses to stress. Among pet owners, those who were more attached to their pets and interacted with them more frequently also reported more frequent and positive interaction with their spouses. No significant differences were found between the responses of men and women or between owners of cats and dogs.
Pets and Elderly People

counterparts without pets declined in their ability to care for themselves. Dogs and cats were associated with equal effects. Other research focused on activity among elderly people found that dog owners took twice as many walks as people without dogs, had significantly lower triglyceride levels, and reported significantly less dissatisfaction with their social, physical, and emotional states. Interestingly, it was also found that people without dogs talked only about the past, whereas those who had dogs talked about the present. Increasingly, nursing homes are including resident pets in their environments. Dogs, cats, birds, and fish are most popular, and their presence has been associated with increased social activity as well as decreased use of prescription medications, especially the use of psychotropic drugs to control agitation. When asked why they have pets, more than 75 percent of elderly people say companionship. The results of many community-based and nursing home studies demonstrate that pets can alleviate a sense of loneliness and isolation and substantially increase social interaction and psychological well-being.
Pets and Children

The relationship between pets and elderly people has been the focus of considerable research. For example, a study of nearly 1,000 Medicare patients found that people with pets were buffered from the impact of stressful life events and made significantly fewer visits to doctors than did people without pets. Similar findings have been reported from the United Kingdom, where it was found that only 1 month after acquiring a dog or cat, there was a 50-percent reduction in reports of minor medical problems. Activities of daily living (ADLs) are often used as measures of ability to live independently. A recent study reported that people with pets had greater self-sufficiency than those without pets. Over the course of a year, the pet owners remained self-sufficient, whereas their

Surveys reveal that around 70 percent of families acquire some kind of pet when their children are between the ages of 5 and 12. Having a pet fosters sensitivity and responsibility, and it provides companionship. In addition, children who help raise animals are better at empathizing with others. Children have a natural affinity for animals, and the presence of a pet has been shown to have a positive influence on cognitive, social, and motor development. Pets also provide a sense of security for children and always have time to listen. Children form powerful attachments to their pets and consider animals as more comforting than a best friend when they are frightened or ill. Having a pet also has been associated with lower levels of post-traumatic stress among children.

Pets and Social Change

Over the past several decades, relationships between animals and people have changed dramatically. Not only do pet owners consider their pets as close friends, but they buy them special


PetHuman Relationships

gifts, take them to daycare and on vacations, purchase veterinary insurance, and refuse to abandon them in times of disasters, such as hurricanes and floods. As an acknowledgment of the importance of pets in the lives of people, many shelters around the United States now have places for pets and owners to remain together. An everyday obstacle that remains is the unwillingness of many landlords to allow pets in apartments. By law, pets are allowed in housing that is federally subsidized, but there is no provision for pets in apartments on privately owned property.

Pets as Social Support: Buffers to Stress

Many laboratory- and community-based studies have considered the role of supportive friends and friendly strangers in buffering responses to stress. In such research, which focuses exclusively on relationships between people, the general conclusion has been that only when friends are perceived as completely nonjudgmental can they buffer stress responses. Although it is difficult to design experiments in which people are nonjudgmental, pets naturally provide total acceptance and never make judgments. Many studies have explored the potential of the nonjudgmental support of pets. In addition, among people with AIDS, pet owners have a lower incidence of depression relative to those without pets. Having a pet, especially a dog, also has been associated with a significantly higher rate of survival 1 year after heart attack, in a manner independent of the physiological severity of the heart attack, demographic characteristics of the patient, and psychosocial factors.

that given by pets, and it has been reported that the presence of seemingly supportive human friends has produced dramatic increases in blood pressure, whereas the presence of ones own dog or cat has resulted in minimal changes from resting blood pressure. In addition, when pets were present, study participants were significantly better at the difficult mental arithmetic task. When husbands and wives participated in a study, it was found that having a spouse present (regardless of gender) produced the largest of all increases in blood pressurethat is, in terms of blood pressure, it was worse to be with ones spouse than with ones friend while performing mental arithmetic. The best situation for blood pressure response as well as task performance was being with ones pet. This suggests that, regardless of how a spouse tries to be supportive, he or she may be perceived as critical, rather than as nonjudgmental. Interestingly, when pets and spouses were both present during the stressful arithmetic task, blood pressure increases were much smaller, as if the presence of the nonjudgmental pet cancelled part of the effect caused by the spouse perceived as critical.

Work-Related Stress, High Blood Pressure, and Pets

The community-based studies described earlier compared pet owners with people who did not have pets. A valid criticism of such studies is that, because they do not involve random assignment to pet ownership, it is possible that there is no pet effect and that pet owners may just be healthier than people who choose not to have a pet. To consider this possibility, a study was conducted in which half of the participants were randomly selected to adopt a pet dog or cat from an animal shelter, while the control group remained without pets. The participants were all stockbrokers who lived alone and described their work as extremely stressful. In addition, they all had high blood pressure and were scheduled to begin taking Lisinopril, a drug that is very effective in reducing resting blood pressure, but not at all useful in blunting responses to stress. The results of this study provide strong evidence for the role of pets in providing a unique type of social support. That is, the drug alone lowered

Pets and Blood Pressure

A frequent focus in research about pets and social support is the degree to which the presence of a pet can diminish a persons blood pressure and heart rate responses to a stressful laboratory task such as mental arithmetic. This body of research is based on the idea that people who experience pronounced, frequent, or enduring heart rate and blood pressure responses to stress may be at risk for development of heart disease. Several studies have compared support provided by humans with

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resting blood pressure, but only when the drug was combined with a pet were blood pressure responses to stress diminished. Interestingly, at the conclusion of the study, when the results of the study were presented to the participants, most of the members of the control group quickly adopted pets as well.
Blood Pressure and Pets: Limitations

Further Readings
Allen, K. (2003). Are pets a healthy pleasure? The influence of pets on blood pressure. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 236239. Friedmann, E., & Thomas, S. A. (1995). Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). American Journal of Cardiology, 76, 12131217. Katcher, A. H., & Beck, A. M. (Eds.). (1983). New perspectives on our lives with companion animals. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Lynch, J. J. (2000). A cry unheard: New insights into the medical consequences of loneliness. Baltimore, MD: Bancroft Books. Podberscek, A. L., Paul, E. S., & Serpell, J. A. (Eds.). (2000). Companion animals and us: Exploring the relationships between people and pets. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Siegel, J. M., Angulo, F. J., Detels, R., Wesch, J., & Mullen, A. (1999). AIDS diagnosis and depression in the multicenter AIDS cohort study: The ameliorating impact of pet ownership. Aids Care, 11, 157169. Wilson, C. C., & Turner, D. C. (Eds.). (1998). Companion animals in human health. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Considerable media attention has been given to the healing power of pets, and the idea that pets can lower blood pressure has been reported widely. Such reports simplify a complex issue and misrepresent research findings. Although existing research about pets and health demonstrate a significant supportive role for pets, it does not demonstrate that pets can necessarily lower resting blood pressure, but rather that pets can influence the magnitude of blood pressure response to a stressful situation. Consequently, a pet should never be considered a substitute for blood pressure medication.

Future Research
Although research has demonstrated a strong supportive role for pets, a great deal remains to be learned about the relationship between human cardiovascular health and having a pet. For example, it is not known how explanatory mechanisms may be related to or influenced by other physiological factors, such as endocrine function. A recent study has begun to explore this area and has demonstrated that, as blood pressure decreases, levels of the endocrine hormone oxytocin increases, suggesting a relationship between social affiliation and blood pressure responses to stress. A major conclusion of research on the effects of animal companionship is that the degree of attachment to a pet is important. A pet cannot help all lonely or depressed people any more than any other isolated therapeutic intervention can always succeed. Karen Allen
See also Health and Relationships; Loneliness, Interventions; Social Support and Health; Stress and Relationships

Physical attractiveness, defining characteristics

The perception of physical attractiveness involves the judgment that a persons overt appearance is cute, beautiful, handsome, sexy, nice, fashionable, or desirable. The diversity of synonyms conveys the fact that perceptions of physical attractiveness are complex and multidimensional. Judgments of physical attractiveness can vary as a function of the nature of the perceptual target (child vs. adult), the current motives (such as lowered selfesteem or ovulation) and demographics of the perceiver (White, Black, Asian, male, female), and the perceivers culture and historical epoch (Renaissance vs. present, West vs. East). For example, people use different criteria when evaluating the physical attractiveness of a newborn baby boy, compared with that of a 21-year-old man. Furthermore, some criteria can change over time. For example, male beards were popular in