Enactive Anthrozoology: Toward an integrative theoretical model for understanding the therapeutic relationships between humans and animals

Theo Verheggen, Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers, & Jannes Eshuis
Open Universiteit Nederland

Anthrozoology continues to advance forward in research and in professionalization of animal assisted interventions. What the discipline is still lacking, however, is a unified theoretical framework “explaining how and why relationships between humans and animals are potentially therapeutic” (Kruger & Serpell, 2010). We propose such a framework, inspired by enactivism (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1992), to integrate the most prominent psychological constructs and biological facts that are currently known in anthrozoological research. Mutual, fully embodied attunement of behavior between living systems is the central concept we put forward in this paper. We address how, in the context of humans and many other animals, meaning production, communication, reflexivity, as well as the shaping of affectivity and behavioral routines all follow from this central principle. The interconnection of key anthrozoological issues and theories—including attachment theory, social support theory, and the biophilia hypothesis—are discussed in direct relation to the mutual, embodied attunement of behavior between humans and animals. We also sketch how this theoretical model may open new domains for doing research.

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