While there is increasing evidence of the beneficial effects of animals on children in therapeutic settings, less is known about if and how everyday interactions with animals can impact positive youth development more broadly, scientists at Tufts University said.
"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," study author and developmental psychologist Megan Mueller said.
Mueller surveyed more than 500 participants ages 18-26 about their attitudes and interaction with animals.
"The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships," she said.
High levels of attachment to an animal in late adolescence and young adulthood were positively associated with feeling connected with other people, having empathy and feeling confident, the study found.
"We can't draw causal links with this study but it is a promising starting point to better understanding the role of animals in our lives, especially when we are young," Mueller said.
Swim Week Miami Beach 2014 [PHOTOS]