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Romantic Partners and Four-Legged Friends: An Extension of Attachment Theory to Relationships with Pets

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The founding principle of attachment theory (Bowlby 1973) is that a secure attachment to a caregiver is one of the first and most basic needs in an infant's life. Through the decades attachment theory has expanded its scope to include central adult relationships, especially between romantic partners, and has provided a useful framework for exploring relationships with friends and family members. We seek to further extend the application of the standard model of adult attachment to another interaction that people value: relationships with pets. We compared participants' reports of their relationships with pets and relationships with romantic partners in a web-based survey of 192 pet owners. Our adaptations of measures originally designed to measure insecurity in human relationships—the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ; Bartholomew and Horowitz 1991) and the Avoidance and Anxiety scales from the Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised questionnaire (ECR-R; Fraley, Waller and Brennan 2000)—produced reliable measures of relationships with pets. The structure of dimensions of insecurity was similar for pet and partner relationships, but ratings of pet relationships correlated little or not at all with ratings of partner relationships. Surprisingly, relationships with pets were more secure on every measure. Our results provide initial evidence that attachment measures are indeed useful tools for investigating people's relationships with their pets. It appears that pets are a consistent source of attachment security; future research with attachment measures may be useful for understanding how the relationship with a pet affects other aspects of the owner's life, perhaps by buffering the experience of negative human social interactions.


Document Type: Review Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279308X274056

Publication date: March 1, 2008

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