Publication Date

Fall 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Sean Laraway


big-five, empathy, gender, HAI, pet ownership, pet preference

Subject Areas

Psychology; Personality psychology; Experimental psychology


Research examining potential differences between pet owners and non-owners is prevalent in the scientific literature, but findings have often been inconsistent. Although some researchers have incorporated animal preference into their investigations of pet ownership, such research is scarce and inconclusive. The purpose of this study was to examine individual differences that may systematically vary based on pet ownership status, pet preference, and gender. It was predicted that the interaction of these variables would demonstrate differences among and between groups of pet owners and non-owners, which could help to explain some of the ambiguity of previous research.

A large sample of adult Internet users (N = 1,034) living in the U.S. completed a series of online questionnaires that assessed pet preference and ownership as well as gender, empathy, loneliness, depression, and the Big 5 personality traits. We found that a pet preference that included dogs or cats was linked to higher empathy for females, especially for those who owned pets. Pet preferences of "Other" for males and "None" for females were associated with higher levels of conscientiousness. A cat-inclusive preference was consistently related to higher levels of empathy, openness, and agreeableness for both men and women. These findings suggest that programs and organizations seeking to improve human well-being through the facilitation of human-animal interaction may be more successful if they account for related differences based on pet preference and gender.