Childhood Neglect, Attachment to Companion Animals, and Stuffed Animals as Attachment Objects in Women and Men

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Childhood neglect has severe, pervasive, negative outcomes that often continue into adulthood. As a potential source of support for both children and adults, companion animals (pets) can both give and receive affection and therefore may be sources of healthy attachment for people who were raised in negative situations. Toy stuffed animals, in contrast, can only receive affection but may still be useful as transitional objects, particularly for people who experienced interpersonal neglect in childhood and who are in the midst of a transition away from the family home and into college. The current study examined the relationships among childhood neglect, companion animal attachment, and attachment to toy stuffed animals. Undergraduate participants (n = 457) from a large regional university answered questionnaires online. The first hypothesis, that self-reported childhood neglect would be positively related to attachment to companion animals, was supported for women only. Neglected women were more attached to companion animals than were non-neglected women, with a medium effect size. For men, there was no significant effect. The second hypothesis was that childhood neglect would be positively related to attachment to stuffed animals; this hypothesis was not supported. The third hypothesis, that women would be more attached to both companion animals and stuffed animals than would men, was supported. Attachment to companion animals and attachment to stuffed animals were positively related. Results are discussed within a framework of attachment and transitional objects as potential aids to therapy in people who were neglected in childhood.