Children’s Mental State Talk, Empathy, and Attachments to Companion Animals

Abstract

Children’s emotional and mental worlds are often influenced by their experiences with companion animals. This study explored 77 (50 g; 27 b) 6- to 12-year-old children’s empathy; perceived companion animal friendship, comfort, and bonding; and mental state talk in conversations about their interactions with their companion animal. Children completed self-report questionnaires and responded to two moral stories about companion animals. Results showed that higher levels of children’s mental state talk were related with high levels of empathy for companion animals. Compared to boys, girls reported significantly stronger companion animal friendships, and that they received more comfort from their companion animals. Results also showed that, for girls only, higher levels of perceived companion animal friendship were related to higher levels of emotional comfort received. The findings can inform humane education programs that promote mental state talk, moral agency, and relationships.

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