Research Suggests Help for Loneliness

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Pinker shares the results of a 2019 study led by Lauren Powell, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. The study looked at whether getting a dog improved the owner’s activity level, cardiovascular health, and psychological state.

On the physical side, owning a dog did not seem to do much for the activity level or cardiovascular health of the dog owners. The results showed that after three months, people with dogs walked 2,589 more steps a day than the control groups. “But at eight months there was a drop-off, so the difference was no longer significant,” said Dr. Powell, speculating that “people were really excited at first, but maybe the novelty wore off.”

However, dog ownership seemed to have a positive effect on the psychological health of the owners. The researchers found that the loneliness in the group that got a dog decreased by 40% and stayed at that lower level at eight months, according to Dr. Powell.

But how exactly do dogs make us happier? In a previous study, Dr. Powell’s group had shown that owning a dog promotes the flow of oxytocin, a hormone that decreases our heart rate and fosters feelings of well-being and relaxation. Plus, she adds, dogs “encourage their owners to get out in nature, maintain a sense of routine, and stay in touch with their neighbors. All the things that benefit our mental health in normal times are just more important during Covid.”

As a dog owner, that’s great news.

But I think a more interesting study, but certainly more challenging, would be to measure the happiness level of a dog once it becomes part of a household. I would hypothesize that its oxytocin levels explode, and have only gotten higher during COVID…

Talk about a symbiotic relationship…


51 thoughts on “Research Suggests Help for Loneliness

  1. 🙂 What Ms. Pinker forgot to mention was that dogs see to it that we get extra exercise when we run after them while they are running after a squirrel.

    Loneliness, in my opinion, is a state of mind because someone can be among a large crowd of people and possess a sense of loneliness.

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  2. It may be true that dogs alleviate loneliness, but I feel skeptical about studies like this. When they say loneliness decreased by 40%, I wonder how they quantified that. Through questionairres? I don’t think it’s possible to quantify something that’s as intangible and subjective as the notion of “loneliness,” and so I think studies like this are best taken with a large grain of salt.

    Nonetheless, I do agree that its safe to say that most dogs are very happy to be adopted.

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  3. As a lifelong dog owner, I’m going to agree with the psychological component. I’ll trade the occasional naughtiness for unconditional love any day of the week.

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  4. If you don’t think that owning a dog has any impact on your psychological or physical health, then you have likely never owned a dog. Almost any pet encourages a feeling of being needed and loved. How can that not have a positive impact on your mental health? Great post Jim!

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  5. this all makes so much sense. I’m a happy cat owner, soon to rescue another baby kitty, to be a companion for my current kitty, it will be a plus for all of us.

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  6. I wonder if there is a corresponding survey for cats? Presumably they’d need to get the cats to answer it, rather than the people who think they own them…

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  7. It has been proven in many studies now with both dogs and cats that they do provide us with many health benefits. And no other animal, apparently, provides the same benefits as dogs and cats.😁😺

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  8. As Steve said, cats give the same effect, except of course dog will force those lazy bums to get off the sofa and get out for fresh air because it’s one of the ways to keep the dogs happy, which in turn makes the owner better and healthier and so the cycle repeats haha 😀

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    1. yes, some people are cat people, and some are dog people. but good point about dogs making it more likely that you ill go for a walk outside, and all the benefit you would get from such an activity…


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