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Companion animals effect on loneliness

Updated on March 26, 2013

Loneliness

Peplau and Perlman (1982) introduced loneliness as an unpleasant experience which occurs when one sees difference between the existing desired levels of social contact he or she might have. Yet this experience is faced differently from person to person. For some this may occur when people feel lonely, when they lack significant others; as for others it may arise when they are part of a social group but lack communication with the other members.


Due to the fact that companion animals have shown to be very beneficial for ones psychological and physical well-being studies carried out, focused on the way(s) companion animals may affect loneliness.

Loneliness and companion animals: Research studies

An old key study (Zasloff and Kidd, 1994) investigated companion animal ownership among single adults. The sample consisted of women, all who were at least 21 years old, single and living alone. The researchers reported that the women living entirely alone without pets were lonelier than those who were living alone and owned a companion animal. In addition the findings support that companion animal ownership can help decrease loneliness, especially for women living alone, and also for those who lack human companionship.


Unlike Zasloff and Kidd, Goldmeier focused on investigating companion animal ownership and general health among elderly women, finding that companion animal ownership showed to reduce loneliness in older women living alone. Thus, he argued that “pets only attenuate the sense of loneliness that may be felt from a lack of human companionship” (pp.203)


Another key study in this area of research is that of Calvert (1989) which examined the human-animal interaction and loneliness among elderly who lived at a nursing home. The findings of this study showed that the residents who had higher levels of interaction with animals had less feelings of loneliness than those who had no interaction with animals.

Animal assisted therapy’s effects on loneliness

It has been argued that companion animals may help reduce loneliness experienced by people at different times in their life. Moreover, animal assisted therapy (AAT) has been used to see whether it has an effect on loneliness among elderly living in care facility homes.


In 2002, Banks and Banks tested initial loneliness levels among older people who lived at a long term care facility. Participants where then divided in groups. There was no animal assisted therapy for the first group. In the second group therapy took place once a week and in the third group it took place three times per week. Six weeks later the participants’ levels of loneliness were tested again. Results indicated that animal assisted therapy reduced loneliness scores. Therefore the researchers had suggested that this type of therapy can have a positive benefit on alleviating loneliness in people who are residents of long term care facilities.


Although most research has found a beneficial effect of companion animals on loneliness, some studies have shown opposite results. For instance, a recent study which investigated this effect was that of Gilbey et al. (2006). Gilbey, McNicholas and Collis had made a claim proposing that if loneliness could be reduced by companion animals, then for people who were separated from companion animals’ loneliness would increase. This argument was therefore tested among a sample of students finding no evidence supporting it. Similar results were found a year later (Gilbey et al., 2007), where participants’ loneliness levels were examined while they were looking to get a companion animal as well as six months later.

The different ways which animals help to reduce loneliness


Most research conducted to test animals’ effect on human health (well-being) found that companion animals show to reduce feelings of loneliness. One of the questions arising from this however is how companion animals are considered to help.


In studies carried out by Banks and Banks (2002), and Wisdom et al. (2009), it was found that a companion animal is capable to help a person socialize. This may be due to the fact that people with pets are approached more often and perceived as friendly and happy by other people (Wells and Perrine, 2001, pp.166); this may be why people who feel lonely benefit from companion animal ownership.


On the other hand, Gilbey et al. (2007) suggests that companion animals do not reduce loneliness but rather provide benefits that make people believe their not so lonely. For instance, owning a companion animal makes peoples’ life style change therefore leaving them with less time to think about whether they are lonely.


Source

Why do some studies find companion animals beneficial for human loneliness while others do not:

The reason, for companion animals being able to diminish loneliness maybe relevant to Siegel’s (1990) findings, that people feel animals have unconditional love and can understand when their owner is upset or happy. However, for some people companion animals may be the case, but for others it is not. Feelings of loneliness differ from person to person.


Companion animal owners may be less lonely than non-animal owners, but this does not indicate that companion animal ownership can help reduce loneliness. For example, a great number of studies are based on the effects of companion animals on elderly populations; mostly showing a beneficial effect. However it may be important to argue the reason for this before carrying out such studies. Older people may feel lonely if they are living entirely alone and their children moved away or they may feel lonely at a residents home if their close family members where absent. Wisdom et al. (2009) indicated that elderly, whose children moved away and currently lived alone, supported that having a pet made them feel needed again, and felt they had the ability to do things they considered impossible.


Researchers such as Gilbey et al. (2007) and Havener et al. (2001) suggest that research should be done among people with high levels of loneliness in order for companion animals’ effect to become more apparent.

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    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great hub, I've been in an cancer office where a man brings Henry he's a great dog he know who he comes to see and gets all excited when he does. Voted up interesting and Useful, Joyce. I look forward to following you.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for your comments, votes and the follow Joyce :) I really appreciate your follow

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

      I'm all for the idea of animals as companions. There is no doubt, from my experience around animals - dogs especially - have a very distinctive effect in their devotion and loyalty.

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Senoritaa 5 years ago

      Very useful hub. Sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Interesting hub on animal companionship. I can see the benefit of having a pet when you live alone. The comfort of having a pet who needs you just as much as you need them is good therapy.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you all for taking the time to read my hub and comment.

      chspublish: I agree, dogs are devoted and loyal companions as well.

      Senoritaa: I am glad you have found my hub useful. Thanks for sharing :)

      teaches1234: Happy that you found the information on this hub interesting.

    • GoGreenTips profile image

      Greg Johnson 5 years ago from Indianapolis

      Having two cats for quite sometime, I can attest that after sometime they become a member of the family. I could see if you were entirely living alone how pets would help with the lonliness. They love you unconditionally and that is a great thing in this fast-paced world in which we live.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Very interesting hub Chris. I am quite interested in some of the work going on with pet therapy with disaffected (and special needs) children in schools in the UK. It has been shown to be very beneficial to the children. I genuinely think animals can be a great support and focus for those on their own.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      GoGreenTips: I agree animals do give unconditional love :)Thank you for popping by and commenting.

      Jools99: I really agree that pet therapy is very beneficial for children, especially for children who have difficulties showing their emotions. I have worked with children both as a Supervisor for children and as a Childminder, most of the children loved pet animals showing high preferences for dogs, cats, rabbits and birds. I am very glad you have found my hub interesting :) Thank you for your comments

    • annaw profile image

      annaw 5 years ago from North Texas

      First thank you for the follow, I am always honored to have another follower.

      I really enjoyed this hub as it is very well written. I really like your source citations.Now to the contents of the Hub. I have lived alone for a very long time until last year; I am a baby boomer who suffers from a chronic depressive disorder. I do not know how I would have made it through some of my worst days without my pet(s). I have mostly had cats in my life and I can say I think at times they felt my pain and added value to my life.Last year I moved in with a roommate and I brought my cat, he could not deal with the changes and ran away, I was heart broken. Although there is someone else in the home I am still alone. She does have pets and her animals began to gravitate toward me and I was and still am spending more time with them than their owner does.Having that love has done a world of good. I am soon going to moving into my own place again and I must have a companion.I have another living breathing thing in my life to come home to. I voted this Hub up, interesting and useful. Thank you

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      imfrancis: Thank you

      annaw: Thank you very much for your kind comments and for sharing your own experiences with animals, I truly appreciate it. The love we receive from our pets is unique and unconditional. It is amazing how they can change a persons life :) Once again, thank you again for your comments, votes and follow annaw, I am glad to be following you!

    • Gracenduta profile image

      Gracenduta 5 years ago from Kenya

      Great hub, voted up

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you Gracenduta :)

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great interesting subject and i agree 100% that pets in the home can help to decrease loneliness in that person living there.

      Vote up and more !!!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you kashmir56, I really appreciate your votes and comments :)

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 5 years ago from Irl

      This is a wonderful hub - I would dread the prospect of a life without animals around me,and I do find I am instinctively drawn towards other pet owners.Voted up ++

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you itakins :)

    • deblevey profile image

      deblevey 5 years ago from Columbus, Nebraska USA - Planet Earth

      Chris, thank you for this insightful hub! Five years ago I was working very hard on maintaining my recovery from drug addiction, fresh out of rehab, sick, depressed, lonely and feeling desperate. A friend who knew of my love for cats referred me to someone who need to rehome a nine month old domestic lynx (tabby/bobcat hybrid.) Thank God I said yes, because I now know Gizmo saved my life! I have four cats now, and whenever I'm feeling blue, one of them jumps on my lap and starts to purr. The most effective therapy I've ever had for depression!

    • Kamalesh050 profile image

      Kamalesh050 5 years ago from Sahaganj, Dist. Hooghly, West Bengal, India

      Enjoyed the article, it's Great - very well presented. Keep up your good work my friend. Voted Up and rated 'Awesome'.

      Best Wishes, Kamalesh

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      deblevey: Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences. It seems that Gizmo really changed your life by giving you strength and love :) Our pets can sense it when we are upset, or not feeling well, and have the tendency to try and make us feel better. I have experienced this with my dogs. Thank you for your comments, I am really glad you have found this hub insightful.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Kamalesh050: Thank you for your comments and votes.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      krsharp05 5 years ago from 18th and Vine

      I really enjoyed reading this hub. Very informative and heart warming!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Hi Chris ~ I also rated this 'interesting' as you provided a number of studies and hypothesis both pro and con the concept of companion animals alleviating loneliness. This well documented and highly researched topic leaves us to think that some people find pets comforting companions, while others may not feel this way. Different age groups, gender, type of pets and other factors make it a complicated issue. Did you have a conclusion based upon all these notes? Blessings, Debby

    • empire mike profile image

      empire mike 5 years ago from empire, colorado

      hey chris, i divorced my wife a few months ago after a year and a half separation. the stress of the last several months of the divorce proceedings was almost unbearable, but survivable. feeling like it would never end, when it did, as i am sure with any new divorcee, i found myself frequently asking, what do i do now and the rest of my life? having been lonely all my life, and now alone on top of it, i took an unlikely direction of a self-imposed hermitage to find some answers. i did cheat a little, however. i adopted a cat about a month ago who adores me and i her. i now come home to an un-empty house and she is all over. she needed love and so did i. i joined hubpages a couple of weeks ago, which is also a great place for the lonely, and my creative side has gone crazy. i don't why pets are good therapy, they just are. thanks for sharing. keep up the good work and good luck on your future plans. it's a messed up world out there. mike

    • profile image

      stessily 5 years ago

      Chris, The last photo --- the one of the black and white cat --- is enchanting, in part because the cat looks so much like Augusta ("Gusty") Sunshine, my sister's cat. Gusty has black markings on both sides which becomes hearts as she curls in sleep and as she moves.

      Well researched and presented well in a clear style. It can be quite difficult to convert the language of scientific studies into understandable terms, and you have bridged that gap articulately and engagingly.

      Well done!

    • Ruthann Maixner profile image

      Ruthann Maixner 5 years ago from Kittredge, Colorado

      I had an adorable Great Pyrenees that we trained to be a registered Therapy Dog. I took her to nursing homes and everyone loved her and she too helped me feel not so lonely during my separation. I also brought my cats and baby ducklings and baby chicks to the nursing homes. The residents loved them and it really brightened their days. I felt good to do that for them. Animals provide great therapy and love, indeed.

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 5 years ago from Yorkshire

      Hi

      I think pets enrich one's life, I know that if ever I'm down in the dumps; all I need do is sit with my two dogs awhile, tickle their ears and tummies and they are happy and so am I.

      good hub, interesting ideas.

      cheers Tony

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
      Author

      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      First, I would like to thank you all for your kind comments and votes:). I am very glad you have enjoyed it.

      Debby:

      I am glad you have found my hub interesting. The research conducted on this topic shows that while for some people the company of an animal may help reduce feelings of loneliness, for others this may not be the case. However, additional research is still needed in order for companion animals effect on loneliness to become more apparent; as the feeling of loneliness differs from person to person. Thus, as each person is unique, each person will develop a unique relationship with his/her pet. Therefore, the way in which companion animals effect loneliness will differ in each situation.

      empire mike:

      Thank you for your wishes and for sharing your experiences. Based on my own experiences and studies, I believe that the most important factor for pets being good therapy is love. The love of the owner to the pet and the unconditional love of the pet to the owner. I am not saying that this is the only reason but, in my opinion, it is the most important.

      stessily:

      Thank you so much for your very kind and encouraging comments stessily :) Really appreciated!

      Ruthann Maixner:

      It's so kind of you to have registered your own dog as a therapy dog and for taking your other pets as well, offering in this way companion, love and warmth to other people who needed it. Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience Ruthann :)

      tonymead60:

      Thank you for sharing. I absolutely know what you mean, as I have two female dogs (mother and daughter). Whenever I'm upset they know just how to cheer me up :) Glad you have found my hub interesting.

      Thank you all, once again!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      Very interesting hub. My school was involved with 'Canine Partners', trained dogs for the disabled; they were trained to perfection, amazing animals and without doubt changed the lives of the people they helped. Not only that, they become lifelong friends of those people, part of the family and a constant companion. Animals are unconditional so won't let you down! The soothing effect on elderly people is also celebrated. Voted up and interesting.

    • AnnaCia profile image

      AnnaCia 5 years ago

      Love this hub. I spend most of my time at home (which I don't mind) with my cat. It is funny because I say that we both understand each other so well. Both of us need our space. hehe. ANother way to fulfill that loneliness is by fostering animals. I foster kittens and it is a marvelous challenge. I am a big believer in animal assisted therapy. Voted up

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your own experiences with your cat AnnaCia. It is really amazing how our pets can understand us and how we can understand them. I have always loved taking care of animals. I am glad you have enjoyed this hub and thank you for your vote. :)

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      Very good hub, and as I have always had pets in the house or horses to talk to and ride and love I know exactly what great companions and therapists they can be. They just have to look at you and they know when you are down or up!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting clairemy, I am very glad you have enjoyed this subject :)

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Really interesting Hub. My pets have been lifesavers for me in bad times. Rated up!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you Suziecat

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What an interesting topic here. Animals do have a way of making people smile :) Well written.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
      Author

      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for your encouraging comments Christy. I am happy you enjoyed reading this hub :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and useful. Having socialized companion animals at nursing homes, I have found that many people who were so lonely at having been left by their families and not visited lost the will to speak. When dogs were brought it, even though it took months, these people learned to live life again. So much for these controlled studies...

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
      Author

      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you for the votes and for sharing your own experiences, I am glad you have found this hub useful :)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I have no doubts about the positive effects of animals on people. I work in a psychiatric hospital and one of the treatment modalities we use is pet therapy. Well presented article with useful/interesting info. Rated up.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      Thank you very much Denise, I really appreciate your comments :) It is nice to know that you have found this information useful and interesting.

    • CharronsChatter profile image

      Karen Robiscoe 4 years ago from California

      Hi Chris--What a great article on the warm fuzzies....I clicked lots of things to indicate this, but can't tell you more--my cat was blocking my monitor. :) Count me an instant fan!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 4 years ago

      Hello Charron, thank you very much for your lovely comments :) I am very happy you enjoyed this topic, I hope you find my other hubs as interesting. Take care!

    • nArchuleta profile image

      Nadia Archuleta 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      I have a love-cat, Lindemann (see the source of his name -- Rammstein -- before concluding I'm crazy cat lady!), and he is terrific company. He whines, which can get annoying, but it beats dead silence. A lot of studies have shown that people with pets live longer. Not just dogs, who promote exercise, but also cats for reducing stress. Very well-esearched Hub.

    • Chris Achilleos profile image
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      Chris Achilleos 4 years ago

      Hi nArchuleta,

      Thank you for stopping by. I'm a dog and cat lover but I have been wanting to get a cat for a while now. I hope I will be able to do so soon.

      I truly appreciate your comments!

      Have a nice day

      Chris

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