Archer Why Do People Love Their Pets 19

Topics: Pet, Attachment theory, Human Pages: 23 (12386 words) Published: December 4, 2014

Why Do People Love Their Pets?
John Archer
Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom

The evidence that people form strong attachments with their pets is briefly reviewed before identifying the characteristics of such relationships, which include pets being a source of security as well as the objects of caregiving. In evolutionary terms, pet ownership poses a problem, since attachment and devoting resources to another species are, in theory, fitness-reducing. Three attempts to account for pet keeping are discussed, as are the problems with these views. Pet keeping is placed into the context of other forms of interspecific associations. From this, an alternative Darwinian explanation is proposed: pets are viewed as manipulating human responses that had evolved to facilitate human relationships, primarily (but not exclusively) those between parent and child. The precise mechanisms that enable pets to elicit caregiving from humans are elaborated. They involve features that provide the initial attraction, such as neotenous characteristics, and those that enable the human owner to derive continuing satisfaction from interacting with the pet, such as the attribution of mental processes to human-like organisms. These mechanisms can, in some circumstances, cause pet owners to derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings. © 1997 Elsevier Science Inc.

KEY WORDS: Attachment; Baby features; Evolutionary arms race; Manipulation; Pets; Social parasitism; Releasers.


et ownership is a very common human activity, and people lavish much affection and money on their pets. From a Darwinian perspective, it is a puzzling form of behavior, as it entails provisioning a member of another species, in return for which there are no apparent benefits connected to fitness. In this article, I first briefly review the evidence for the existence of strong attachments between people and their pets and discuss what forms these attachments take. I shall concentrate on cats and dogs, these being the most commonly owned

Received March 22, 1996; revisedDecember 17, 1996.
Address reprint requests and correspondenceto: John Archer, Departmentof Psychology, Universityof Central Lancashire,Preston, PR1 2HE, Lancashire,UK.
Evolutionand HumanBehavior 18:237-259 (1997)
© 1997 ElsevierScienceInc. All rights reserved.
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PII S0162-3095(97)00004-6


J. Archer

pets in the western world. Historically, they are also those with which humans interact most closely, as they are allowed to run freely in people's homes. I then outline why pet ownership poses an evolutionary problem and examine three attempts to account for it: these are the view that strong attachment to a pet indicates a poor capacity for human relationships, that it results from modern living conditions, particularly affluence, and that pet ownership confers benefits for health and psychological well-being. I shall argue that none of these provides a satisfactory explanation for the evolution of pet ownership, and I then consider the possibility that pets are, in evolutionary terms, manipulating human responses, that they are the equivalent of social parasites. I conclude that this is the most likely explanation, rather than some form of mutual benefit. The precise human mechanisms that allow them to be manipulated in this way are then discussed: they include both features that provide the initial attraction to the animal, and continuing features of the interaction with the pet that prove satisfying for the owner. The existence of such mechanisms, which have all evolved to enhance fitness within the context of human-human interactions, can, in some circumstances, lead to pet owners obtaining more satisfaction from...

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