Pet Keeping: A Case Study in Maladaptive Behavior

John Archer

in The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Family Psychology

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780195396690
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Pet Keeping: A Case Study in Maladaptive Behavior

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  • Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology


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Natural selection leads to maladaptive behavior through several interrelated means. New adaptations may be constrained by designs resulting from past adaptations, there may be maladaptive by-products of adaptive responses, and environments may change faster than the capacity to respond to them. The behavior of hosts of avian brood parasites provides an example, and it is argued that human pet keeping is another, involving the manipulation of human responses that evolved for other purposes. This leads to strong attachments by humans to their pets, which are underpinned by the following: (a) infant schema, which may be maintained in adult pets; (b) anthropomorphism; (c) motherese or infant-directed speech, which further facilitates the development of the human–pet bond; and (d) the ability to regard attachments to pets more favorably than those to humans. Adaptations by pet species facilitate human attachments, and support the view that pets manipulate the human owners.

Keywords: Adaptation; maladaptive behavior; constraints; evolutionary arms race; social parasites; pets; attachment; infant schema; anthropomorphism; infant-directed speech

Article.  12909 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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