The Characteristics and Motivations of Human Volunteers of Animal-Assisted Interventions

Corinne Syrnyk and Alisa McArthur

St. Mary’s University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

This study examined the characteristics and motivations of people who volunteer in animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) with their dog. Surveys of volunteer motivation, prosocial attitudes, altruism, empathy, personality, and the Pet Attachment Questionnaire were conducted, and demographic data were collected from AAI volunteers (AAIVs). For comparison purposes, these measures were also given to a group of people who volunteer with animals, but not in an AAI capacity (non-AAIVs). This study found both groups to be overwhelmingly female (>90%) with university-level educations. Motivated by the value of helping others, AAIVs scored higher than non-AAIVs on scales of empathy, prosocial behaviour, and altruism. AAIVs’ personality traits were primarily agreeable and less neurotic, and they scored higher and lower, respectively, on these traits compared to non-AAIVs. For the AAIVs only, the traits of agreeableness and extraversion uniquely predicted a secure (less anxious) pet attachment. However, for non-AAIVs, conscientiousness was the only dimension that predicted a secure attachment. The discussion considers the importance of empathy, a commitment to helping, and altruism as defining characteristics of AAIVs. The relationship between personality and attachment is also discussed.

Keywords: Animal-Assisted Interventions; Volunteers; Motivation; Personality; Empathy.

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Keywords: animal-assisted interventions, empathy, Motivation, personality, Volunteers
Posted in Pre-Publication Articles