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Pets help people lift their mood, a study has found. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

New York: Humans love pets and whenever they feel socially rejected or sad, just a thought or a picture of their pet can lift their mood, a study has found, suggesting that animals have a unique ability to comfort people.

Thinking about another human did not produce the same effect, said the study.

“Those who are more predisposed to attributing entities with human-like characteristics would benefit from even the most minimal engagement with animals,” said lead study author Christina M. Brown from Miami University in the US.

The team conducted three separate studies in which participants were asked to relive past experiences of social rejection.

After this, they were then asked to name photographed animals and their feelings were recorded and analysed. Participants who thought of names for animals reported less negative emotions and feelings of rejection than those who did not.

“Anthropomorphism may be an effective and powerful way to eradicate and combat the negative feelings that result from social rejection,” the authors said.

The study’s authors said, “People who connect with animals to cope with their own loneliness are actually using an effective emotion-regulation strategy, as animals have been found to offset feelings of rejection caused by other humans. For example, when college students are asked to relive the pain of past social rejection, subsequently writing about their pet reduces feelings of rejection as effectively as writing about their best friend, both of which alleviate rejection more than drawing a map of their campus. This shows that an animal with whom one shares a connection can offset feelings of social rejection, and related research identifies anthropomorphism as a primary mechanism by which animals comfort humans.”

Following research conducted for the study, the authors said across the three studies, generating a name for a cat or dog improved well-being after reliving social rejection. Naming humans did not produce the same effect, but naming toys did. “Overall, the current findings indicate that anthropomorphism, whether it occurs deliberately or spontaneously, can offset the negativity that results from social rejection,” the study said.