Connecting with pets promotes environmental sustainability



As we continue to break global heat records every month in 2023 (Hausfather, 2023), being more environmentally conscious has never been more important. And while a majority of Americans believe that global warming is real and immediate action is needed to address it (Marlon et al., 2022), holding these beliefs and taking the actions needed to ensure sustainability are large and widening.

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How can we get more people interested in the environment? Recent research shows that relationships with pets can increase people’s connection to nature and strengthen their efforts to practice environmentally friendly behaviors. is suggested.

Pets serve as a bridge to increase interest in nature

One important way to motivate sustainability is to view nature as a more central part of people’s self-concept (Korach & McConnell, 2021). When we include others (such as loved ones, friends, and pets) in our self-concept, we become more concerned about them and want to protect them (McConnell et al., 2011; Oveis et al., 2010).

Pets motivate people to value nature more.

Allen R. McConnell

For example, as people view nature as more integrated into their sense of self (i.e., nature becomes a larger part of their identity and the distinction between self and nature becomes more blurred), they become more environmentally conscious. more likely to take action (McConnell & Jacobs, 2020). However, because the average American spends 92% of their time in human-made environments (Klepeis et al., 2001; Sallis et al., 2012), opportunities to get outdoors and connect with nature are important. is rare.

However, most Americans own pets, view them as important to their self-concept, and care deeply for them (McConnell et al., 2011). And while most people consider companion animals to be “family members,” they also acknowledge that pets are animals as well (McConnell et al., 2019).

This duality of seeing companion animals as important elements of people’s sense of self, but also part of nature, allows pets to act as a bridge to our everyday world and foster a greater interest in nature. Masu. In short, pets are important to us and this is where many people have the most frequent contact with nature, so leveraging this bridge can promote sustainability.

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empirical evidence

In a research paper published this fall, Jacobs et al. (2023) found that people’s relationships with their pets can also make them more concerned about conservation. One of their studies investigated the extent to which people anthropomorphize their pets (i.e., ascribe human-like qualities and characteristics to them), and found that people have nature-centered motivations and are environmentally conscious. We evaluated the extent to which they performed the given actions. As people view their pets as having richer emotional experiences (e.g., being able to feel pain, being able to feel pleasure), they have greater intentions to engage in environmentally friendly behaviors and more concern for nature. was shown.

Anthropomorphizing pets strengthens your commitment to the environment.

Allen R. McConnell

Then, in a follow-up study, Jacobs and colleagues used an experimental design to manipulate people’s sense that their pets had rich (as opposed to poor) emotional lives. Specifically, study participants were asked to read a fake article (purportedly written by an expert, but actually carefully crafted by the experimenter) to gauge their perceptions of whether their pets’ mental lives were rich or poor. operated. Participants who read articles suggesting that pets have strong emotional experiences were more likely to express greater concern for nature and be more committed to implementing environmentally friendly behaviors. It has become expensive. Therefore, attributing companion animals with a stronger degree of emotional anthropomorphism led people to be more proactive towards sustainability.


Our connection with pets therefore acts as a bridge to foster greater sustainability. Our ability to ascribe human-like emotional traits to companion animals increases our interest not only in pets but also in nature. Because pets act as a bridge between our everyday world and broader nature.

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Numerous studies have shown that connecting with pets improves our own health and well-being when we perceive them to have human-like qualities (McConnell et al., 2011, 2017 , 2019). And this recently published study ( Jacobs et al., 2023 ) shows that the human-pet connection may also play an important role in the health and well-being of our planet.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.


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McConnell, A. R., and Jacobs, T. P. (2020). Natural representations of the self: On the unique influence of natural self size on environmental action. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 71, 101471.

AR McConnell, EP Lloyd, and TM Buchanan (2017). Animals as friends: Social-psychological effects of human-pet relationships. In M. Hojjat & A. Moyer (Eds.), The psychology of friendship (pp. 157–174). Oxford University Press.

McConnell, A.C., Lloyd, EP., & Humphrey, B.T. (2019). we are family. Seeing your pet as a member of your family improves your well-being. Anthrozoös, 32, 459-470.

Oveis, C., Horberg, E. J., and Keltner, D. (2010). Compassion, pride, and social intuition of self-other similarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 618-630.

Sallis, J. F., Floyd, M. F., Rodriguez, D. A., and Saelens, B. E. (2012). The role of the built environment in physical activity, obesity, and CVD. Circulation, 125, 729-737.

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