Processes in Social & Affective Development: Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) Research

In 2008, NICHD and the WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute external link, a division of Mars, Inc., entered into a public-private partnership to study the interaction between humans and animals. The partnership encourages HAI research, especially as it relates to child development, health, and the therapeutic use of animals with children and adolescents.

The first activity within this partnership was the Directions in HAI Research: Child Development, Health, and ​Therapeutic Interventions workshop, held in October 2008. This event, co-funded by NICHD’s Child Development and Behavior Branch and WALTHAM, brought together researchers from various disciplines with an interest in HAI to take stock of the science and contribute to the development of an interdisciplinary research agenda.

In 2009 and 2010, NICHD published Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) with the National Institute of Nursing Research and with support from WALTHAM. These FOAs sought to build an empirical research base on:

  • How children perceive, relate to, and think about animals
  • How pets in the home affect children's social and emotional development and health (e.g., allergies, asthma, mitigation of obesity)
  • Whether and under what conditions therapeutic use of animals is safe and effective

Also in 2009, the partners held a second HAI workshop at WALTHAM.

Two edited volumes and one journal article resulting from the workshops have been published:

  • McCardle, P., McCune, S., Griffin, J., Esposito, L., & Freund, L. (Eds.). (2011). Animals in our lives: Human-animal interaction in family, community, & therapeutic settings. Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing Co.
  • McCardle, P., McCune, S., Griffin, J., & Maholmes, V. (Eds.). (2011). How animals affect us. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.
  • Esposito, L., McCune, S., Griffin, J., & Maholmes, V. (2011). Directions in human-animal interaction research: Child development, health, and therapeutic interventions. Child Development Perspectives, 5, 205-211.

In 2011, a third workshop on the social neuroscience of HAI was held in Washington, DC. Details of the workshop are available at Social Neuroscience Workshop Announcement external link.

The NICHD-Mars Public Private Partnership was highlighted at the 2012 TEDMED conference. external link

In 2020, the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science published an editorial, “Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) Research: A Decade of Progress,” to mark the 10th anniversary of the NICHD-Mars Public Private Partnership (PMID: 32133375).

For more information on NICHD’s HAI research program, contact Layla Esposito, Ph.D.

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