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How human relationships with animals affect us: an interview with Hal Herzog, Professor of Psychology

By Nikki Moylan

Hal Herzog, PhD., focuses on the psychology and ethics of our relationships with members of other species.

Everyone loves a cuddly puppy or when a normally picky cat chooses them to give it attention. But do you ever think about how animals play a role in the way they function?

Cats and dogs make excellent pets and also help relieve stress.

I talked to Hal Herzog, professor emeritus of psychology at Western Carolina University. He is the author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.” Herzog first became interested in human-animal relationships when he was younger, saying that  “I moved to the Smoky Mountains in rural North Carolina and discovered that some of my neighbors were cockfighters. I eventually studied the illegal culture of cockfighting for my doctoral dissertation. The rooster fighters got me interested in investigating other subgroups with morally complicated relationships with animals, and I went on to study animal rights activists, veterinary students, animal researchers, and circus animal trainers. As a psychologist, I find our relationships with animal offer a unique window into important and interesting facets of human nature.”

Do therapy dogs really help college students de-stress during finals week?

Yes, researchers at Yale University recently did a study and determined that petting dogs temporarily relived stress in those who petted a therapy dog named Finn. The study showed an impressive reduction of anxiety in medical students and a boost in mood.

Why do so many students turn to vegetarianism or veganism?

Herzog notes that so many turn to these diets because of the logical arguments against eating meat are strong on moral, environmental, and health grounds. Another is that vegetarians and vegans tend to score high on a personality trait called “openness to new experiences.”

“This is also a trait that characterizes many college students,” says Herzog.

However, up to 86% of vegetarians and 70% of vegans end up going back to consuming meat or animal products.

Do you think the media also plays a role in inspiring people to turn to vegetarianism or veganism?

“Absolutely,” Herzog says. “Millennials are influenced by movie stars, athletes and music idols more than their parents were.”

Celebs like Beyonce,  Jay-Z, and Alicia Silverstone are vegetarians, and Herzog notes that  “several studies have found that over 60% of self-described “vegetarians” eat some kind of animal flesh every day.”

Going vegan is totally an option for people looking to improve their lifestyles.

In the end, animals are great, but it is your choice to decide if you’d like to abstain from eating their meat.

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How human relationships with animals affect us: an interview with Hal Herzog, Professor of Psychology