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One of the family? Measuring young adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings

Summary


Child-pet relationships share some of the same characteristics as sibling relationships

One aim of this study was to evaluate a pet adaptation of the Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI), which measures the quality of human relationships. A second aim was to examine how the quality of pet relationship varies with pet type and participant’s gender, and to compare participants’ relationships with pets and with siblings.

Seventy-seven 12-year-old children participated in the study by completing three data collection measures: the NRI, a Five Field Map, and a Pet Attachment Survey (PAS). The original version of the NRI consists of 11 subscales measuring different aspects of close personal human relationships. Four of these subscales (Companionship, Intimate disclosure, Satisfaction, and Conflict) were deemed appropriate for relationships with pets as well as humans and thus used for the pet adaptation. With the Five Field Map, participants show on concentric circles how close individuals from different areas of their social network are to them. These networks include family, relatives, school, friends/neighbors, and pets. Items on the PAS focused specifically on the child’s pet attachment. While each participant completed a child version of the PAS, the participant’s mother completed a parent version of the scale.

An analysis of the data indicated that the pet adaptation of the NRI can be used to obtain a valid measure of a young adolescent’s relationship with a pet. Findings also indicated that girls tend to have more intimate disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than do boys. Additionally, dog owners reported more satisfaction and companionship with their pet than owners of other types of pets. Children participating in this study also reported more satisfaction and less conflict with their pets than with their siblings.

The results of this study not only support the validity of the pet adaptation of the NRI but also indicate that child-pet relationships share some of the same characteristics as human relationships. These findings also support the idea that child-pet relationship can positively influence young adolescents’ social and emotional development.

Citation

Cassels, M.T., White, N., Gee, N., Hughes, C., (2017). One of the family? Measuring young adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 49, 12-20.

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