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USF Sarasota-Manatee Researcher Looks At Connections Between Humans And Pets

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Magdalena Roeseler
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Are you a ‘dog person,’ yet you own a cat? Is there a way to increase the emotional connection with your pet? Can overindulging your pet encourage them to misbehave?

A researcher at USF Sarasota-Manatee is looking at how the interactions between humans and their animals contribute to the physical, social and psychological well-being of both sides of such a relationship.

(This report originally aired Sept. 5, 2017)

Anthony Coy is an assistant professor of psychology who has conducted studies into the subject, using data collected in different projects by both he and his students.

"I'm looking at how a pet can influence individuals and how individuals' attachment, or how they view relationships more generally, influences their treatment of the pet," Coy said. Extended University Beat report on the research into human-pet interaction being conducted at USF Sarasota-Manatee.

In one study, led by honors student Jasmine Puskey, the effect of owning the opposite pet of how a person identifies themselves -- i.e., a "dog person" owning a cat or vice versa, was explored.

Puskey surveyed pet owners, asked them which animal they preferred and which they actually owned, and then gave them a depression inventory, a multiple choice questionnaire to measure how depressed a person is.

"She was evaluating how personality plays a role," Coy said. "What we found was that it really does matter if you're a dog person or a cat person. If you are owning the 'incorrect' type of pet -- the type of pet that you don't prefer, you're going to be more depressed it turns out."

The other study has been accepted for publication by the Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, a division of the American Psychological Association.

Four hundred pet owners were surveyed about their attachment to their animals, as well as how they cared for them.

"What we found is that people who were highly anxious tended to report more care-giving behaviors," Coy said. "The issue with that is we also know that pets are overweight, and so (the owners) may be providing too much food, they may be providing too much stimulation, and we really need to do some further investigation into that element to get a better idea of the extent to which they're providing too much."

This study was co-authored by Jeffrey D. Green at Virginia Commonwealth University, which provided a grant to support the work

Coy said these studies fit into one of his larger research goals: determining what humans get out of their relationships with their pets, particularly when it comes to their interactions not just with their animals, but with other people.

"The theory behind it is that we used to get some sort of protection from having dogs around, and now they've really morphed into these comfort animals, these animals that provide some sort of emotional support," Coy said.

"And so how is that having a role? Are we becoming more social because of it, particularly people who may have a tendency to avoid social situations?" he added. "Can pets actually help them in terms of getting out and having new experiences, meeting new people? Similarly, if you have an avoidance tendency with other people, are you able to overcome that through using the pets?"

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.