My name is Kate Stafford. I have just completed a four year BSc in Applied Psychology. I have an interest in Educational Psychology and Lifespan Psychology. My postgraduate goals include gaining as much experience working in disability and support services before I make a final decision on a Masters Programme.
In recent years, the research has suggested that pet ownership may enhance empathy levels among owners. However, the vast majority of research focuses on the traditional pet. The current study aims to bridge this gap in the literature by examining empathy and pet attachment levels among those who own real and/or virtual pets.
'The relationship between empathy, pet ownership and pet attachment among pet owners and virtual pet owners.'
The aim of the present study was to examine pet owners of real and virtual pets, and how empathy and pet attachment levels may differ. The participants (N=435) were pet owners of real and/or virtual pets. This was done through administering questionnaires, containing one qualitative question. The independent variable was pet ownership with three levels (real, virtual and both). The dependent variables were empathy and pet attachment. These were measured by the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (Spreng, McKinnon, Mar & Levine, 2009) and The Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (Johnson, Garrity & Stallones, 1992).
The first hypothesis, that there would be a difference for participant’s empathy scores based on the type of pet owned - was accepted. The both pet ownership type group scored the highest in empathy. The second hypothesis that there would be a difference in participant's pet attachment scores based on the type of pet owned – was accepted. The third hypothesis that there would be a correlation between empathy scores and pet attachment scores – was supported. A strong positive correlation between empathy scores and pet attachment scores was observed. The qualitative aspect of this study sought to explore what participants enjoy about their relationship with their pet(s). Responses differed among the different pet types, with a large majority of pet owners discussing the positive effect their pets had on their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings from the current study complement research that associating pet ownership with empathy has provided, an added insight into virtual pet ownership to bridge the gap in the literature. Limitations of this research include the unequal group sizes across the pet ownership groups and the disproportionate ratio of males to females.