It turns out, there's a positive side to the emotional trauma of (spoiler alert) watching Old Yeller find himself behind the shed at the end of the movie. That strong emotional reaction to the fate of a pet swings hard the other way as well according to a new study out of the University of Cambridge.
The study, published in the March 2017 issue of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, suggests children derive more satisfaction from their pets than from their siblings. The research is seen as a part of mounting evidence that pets can have a large positive influence on childhood development. Also, the research goes to show that your siblings kick you in the shins and take your stuff. Dogs basically never do that, which is far more satisfying than the shin-kicking doled out by older brothers.
The study included 77 12-year-old children, who had their pet relationships rated with the Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI), more commonly used on human relationships. Among the findings were that adolescent girls "reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict" with their pets than boys did. Also, dog owners were found to derive greater satisfaction and companionship from their pets than people with other pet types.
''Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people," Matt Cassels, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, told Medical Xpress. "We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development.
''Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings," Cassels continued. "The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental."
The study, which was partially funded by WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, only looked at one age group. It's a fascinating study, though there's certainly more to development than these factors (some of which sibling relationships may very well provide).
The study is garnering interest in part because though pets are wildly common in many countries, they have, as the study's authors write, "received scant empirical attention." It's interesting, but it's just one study. More work will need to be done before you can finally determine that children should be signed up for home school with Professor Fido.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.