Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
I had kind of a depressing weekend and I decided that what we really needed on the run up to the coming weekend was some good news. So I avoided all the global warming stories and the “fill-in-the-blank’ is bad for you” stories and the other downers and decided to give you some good animal stories.
We all know that play is good for us humans and that other animals also play, particularly as juveniles. Now a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee says that play isn’t just confined to juveniles and it isn’t confined just to mammals. Other animals also need a little play time.
Gary Burghardt says that he had an epiphany when he saw a Nile softshell turtle, batting a basketball around at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. That was when he realized that reptiles play too.
Dr. Burghardt has developed five different things that he thinks constitute ‘play’ and sums them up in this sentence. “Play is repeated behavior that is incompletely functional in the context or at the age in which it is performed and is initiated voluntarily when the animal or person is in a relaxed or low-stress setting.”
Dr. Burghardt feels that by more accurately characterizing play and observing it throughout the entire animal kingdom, we humans may better understand ourselves. According to Dr. Burghardt, “Play is an integral part of life and may make a life worth living.”
And if play is good for just about everybody, it turns out that animals in general are good for people when they’re kept as pets. Although we’ve heard a lot about the importance of pets to people who are challenged in various ways, a recent study by psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called ‘everyday people’ not just individuals facing significant health challenges.
In the first experiment, the researchers discovered that pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.
A second experiment, involving 56 dog owners examined whether pet owners benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs. This study found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.
The last study looked at 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19 and found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection. Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favorite pet, or to write about their favorite friend, or to draw a map of their campus. The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.
The authors say that their study “establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets.’
I know that my cat Pelenor and my two dogs Kezzie and Rascal have helped me a lot. If you don’t have a pet, perhaps you should get one and by all means play with it!