Every so often, a study emerges that confirms your biases. This one believes you should stop putting off buying that pet, because COVID-19.
The uncertainty brought on by the response to COVID-19 (and COVID-19) itself has compelled many to turn to their social support networks. However, with limited access to in-person human social networks, pets are becoming an increasingly useful way to manage such uncertainty. A new study suggests that pets may be the perfect complementary social support to supplement virtual human-to-human interaction in times like these.
The clinical impact statement of the study claims that “complementary social support from pets may reduce uncertainty thus potentially decreasing the risk for development of posttraumatic stress symptoms.” Such a development is perhaps even more crucial during a pandemic as social distancing prevents a great deal of in-person human contact.
We can expect COVID-19 to trigger posttraumatic stress symptoms in many. According to experts, the presence of social support is a leading predictor of developing these symptoms. When in-person human social support is not available, alternate options need to be explored to prevent such symptoms.
Initial findings suggest that pets can act as such an alternative, often proving to be a consistent source of social support owners can lean on. Multiple theories have emerged to explain why people are compelled to turn to their pets for social support and companionship in times of stress and uncertainty. One of these, the biophilia hypothesis, postulates that humans are innately drawn to other living things, a tendency developed through evolution since human survival rates increase with heightened attention to the environment.
Beyond attention, attachment theory suggests that the bonds humans are able to create with other living species are also important for safety and security, potentially offering significant support to individuals during traumatic and uncertain times like a pandemic. Perhaps the emotional bonds shared between individuals and animals may offer a source of non-judgmental support as well as a source of unconditional positive regard; important when human-to-human bonds are not accessible.
Furthermore, emerging literature suggests that pets may also have unique benefits in mitigating multiple symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress, symptoms that may be aggravated by an individual’s intolerance of uncertainty. As those at risk move through the COVID-19 pandemic, managing uncertainty is vital to tackle lasting effects from the traumatic experience. Uncertainty management theory suggests that in every situation there is a peak level of certainty that individuals seek to attain through searching for or avoiding information, often depending on interactions with social support networks.
Initial findings suggest that pets can act as such an alternative, often proving to be a consistent source of social support owners can lean on. Multiple theories have emerged to explain why people are compelled to turn to their pets for social support and companionship in times of stress and uncertainty.
Social support from a pet is unique in that the pet cannot directly either provide information or manipulate a situation so that the human experiences less uncertainty. However, individuals may perceive that their pets do in fact help to manage their uncertainty because caring for a pet requires a consistent routine in a time of uncertainty and unpredictability. This stability directly decreases an individual’s perceived level of uncertainty, therefore playing an important role in complementing virtual human support. Additionally, pets can act as a safe haven for avoiding stressful information that may inadvertently arise from dealing with social support networks.
“ may provide the support needed to mitigate some lasting symptoms of posttraumatic stress,” wrote the authors of the study. “The COVID-19 pandemic brings significant uncertainty to many, and with social distancing limiting access to human-to-human social networks, access to social support from pets may provide a sense of companionship and comfort to individuals during a difficult time.”
A focus on pets as complementary support to the virtual human support that individuals have access to during this time may provide an alternative option to managing uncertainty and therefore may provide the support needed to mitigate some lasting symptoms of posttraumatic stress. In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic brings significant uncertainty to many, and with social distancing limiting access to human-to-human social networks, access to social support from pets may provide a sense of companionship and comfort to individuals during a difficult time.