Earliest Memories of Pets Predict Adult Attitudes: Phenomenological, Structural, and Textual Analyses

Philip H. Marshall1, Molly E. Ireland1 & Audrey A. Dalton2

1 Department of Psychological Sciences, Texas Tech University
2 Department of Human Development & Family Studies, Texas Tech University

The human-animal interaction literature has many examples of how early childhood experiences affect adult pet attitudes, social development, and empathy; however, there have been no specific studies of the memories that are the bases of these attitudes and dispositions. In this study, adults described their earliest childhood memories of a pet, friend, or automobile in their own words, rated each memory on several phenomenological dimensions, and reported their current attitudes towards pets. Participants rated pet memories as being more emotionally intense and accessible and having more sensory detail than friend memories. Earliest memories of a friend were more positive than earliest memories of pets, largely due to early pet memories focusing more on death and loss. There was a modest positive correlation between assessed pet memory valence and attitudes towards pets. Participants who recalled memories of their own pet and described more interactive pet memories had more positive adult attitudes towards pets. Results of the linguistic analysis of the recorded memories converged with the valence and pet attitude measures, and further showed that negative emotion words and impersonal pronouns used in pet and friend memories were more similar for those with more positive attitudes toward pets. The study reveals the complexities of the relationship between the earliest childhood memories of pets and adult attitudes towards pets. Future research should investigate how pets are represented and processed in the full range of human cognition.

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Keywords: attitudes, autobiographical memories, human-animal interactions, language, Pets
Posted in 2015, Volume 3, No. 1