Autism, pets, and the importance of seeing human

Gray Atherton*, Andrea Piovesan, Liam Cross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

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Abstract

People often see the human in the nonhuman, a process called anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is particularly prolific regarding the humanization of pets. Some research suggests that people with autism may not anthropomorphize to the same degree as neurotypicals. In this study, we explored whether there were differences in how autistic and neurotypical pet owners anthropomorphized their pets. We also examined differences in levels of connectedness to nature and experiences of loneliness and how this corresponded to autistic traits in the entire sample. We found anthropomorphism was as common among autistic pet owners as in neurotypicals. However, autistic pet owners reported greater loneliness and were more likely to substitute pets for people. We also found that neurotypical pet owners rated pets more highly on physical, non‐anthropomorphic traits (i.e., muscular, active). In contrast, autistic pet owners were likelier to rate pets equally between physical and anthropomorphic traits. Moreover, we found that anthropomorphism and connection to nature were positively correlated with autistic traits. These findings challenge accounts stating that individuals with autism may not anthropomorphize to the same degree as neurotypicals. Implications for animal‐based interventions supporting adults on the spectrum are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism Research
Early online date11 Jul 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • pets
  • anthropomorphism
  • AQ
  • loneliness
  • autism
  • theory of mind

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