Empathy, Pet-Ownership and Self-Awareness


  • Miray Helmy MacEwan University


Empathy is defined as the ability to share feelings and emotions of another individual (Daly & Morton, 2009). A person’s level of empathy can be affected by many factors, such as exposure to childhood trauma (Greenberg et al., 2018), mindfulness training (Birnie et al., 2010), and childhood pet ownership (Daly & Morton, 2006; Vidović et al., 1999). It is the last of these items that is of interest to the present study. Specifically, it is unclear whether one’s change in empathy is due to pet ownership itself, or the result of changes in other personal factors that tend to coincide with pet ownership.  The present study is therefore designed to expand on our understanding of why pet ownership is associated with empathy change, and will assess the relationship between empathy and one’s relationship with animals, the bond an individual has with their pet, and or one’s level of self-awareness (the ability to distinguish oneself and one’s values from others, Froming et al., 1998), among others.

Therefore, we predict that in general, owning a pet will be associated with higher levels of human-centered and animal-centered empathy. However, we also predict that the strength of the pet-owner  bond, and personal factors such as one’s level of self-awareness, will be critical modulating factors for the relationship between pet-ownership and empathy. Specifically, we predict that individuals with a stronger bond with their animal, and higher levels of self-awareness, will have higher empathy scores than those who have weaker bonds with their animals, or lower levels of self-awareness.

Department: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Eric Legge