PhD studentship investigating the impact of pet ownership on childhood behavioural, cognitive and educational outcomes

Applications close on 15 February 2016

Human Animal Interaction


Dr Carri Westgarth, Research Fellow in Human-Animal Interaction, University of Liverpool
Dr Nancy Gee, Human-Animal Interaction Research Manager, WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition
Dr Robert Christley, Reader in Epidemiology, University of Liverpool
Dr Kasia Kordas, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, University of Bristol
Dr Carol Joinson, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Bristol
Prof Kerstin Meints, Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Lincoln


The overarching aim of this PhD research project is to investigate the independent associations between the ownership of different pet types, and emotional, behavioural, cognitive and educational outcomes, in a well characterised, large contemporary cohort of children.

Research into the effects of pets on human health and wellbeing is producing encouraging results. For example, interacting with a pet has positive effects on emotion, social interactions, blood pressure and physical activity. However, there is a marked lack of high-quality empirical studies, and most research to date has focused on adults rather than children.

There are a number of hypotheses as to why pet ownership may lead to better health and increased wellbeing. Dogs, in particular, promote physical activity, contact with pets may have positive physiological effects, and pets may provide emotional and social support that ‘buffers’ against the stresses of daily life. These benefits may be mediated through directly felt support and affection from the pet. However, there is also evidence of indirect influences that result from enhanced social contact with people through pet ownership. A key benefit derived from increased social support for pet owners may be increased self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, and as pet ownership is a potentially protective predictor of self-esteem, it could have further benefits for anxiety, depression, behavioural problems, and educational attainment in children and adolescents.

Birth cohorts offer unique opportunities for human-animal interaction research. Based at the University of Bristol, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), also known as Children of the 90s, is a world-leading birth cohort study that has been followed up intensively over nearly 25 years. Pet ownership was reported by the primary carer of the child prospectively from gestation until age 10, approximately every 18 months. This PhD research project will utilise this important resource to investigate the relationship between pet ownership and multiple cognitive, behavioural and educational outcomes.

The successful applicant will be supported by a supervisory team made up of world-leading researchers working in the fields of human-animal interaction, epidemiology and developmental psychology. In addition, to excellent research training, the student will be supported by subject-specific and generic skills training, aimed at helping new postgraduate researchers to identify and develop the knowledge, skills and personal qualities required for a successful research degree (see for further details).


This PhD studentship is for 3 years and includes a stipend of £14,057 per annum and home/EU tuition fees of approximately £4000 per annum. The successful applicant will be primarily based at the Leahurst Campus (Veterinary School) at the University of Liverpool, in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Institute of Infection and Global Health. The student will also spend part of their PhD at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, a leading scientific authority in advancing the frontiers of research into the nutrition and health of companion animals (, and Bristol University.

Please note we have funding for home/EU tuition fees only, so if you are an overseas student you will be expected to make up the shortfall personally. Currently fees for overseas students are approximately £17,000 per annum. The University of Liverpool has funding opportunities (bursaries, scholarships) that are relevant to international students applying for postgraduate research degrees (


Potential applicants must be highly motivated and possess or about to be awarded a bachelors honours degree (at least upper second class or equivalent) in a relevant discipline. This may include (but is not limited to): Veterinary/ Animal Science/ Bioveterinary Science, Psychology, Zoology/Anthrozoology, Education, Epidemiology/Statistics, or Public Health. A Masters level degree is preferred but not obligatory. A passion for understanding the role of pets in the lives of children is essential.

How to Apply

Please email your application to with the heading “FAO: Jill Hudson-Browne Liverpool-Waltham PhD” in the subject line.
Please attach two documents as PDFs; a CV of no more than 3 pages and a covering letter. Please state in your covering letter why you think you are suitable for this PhD project. Please also attach copies of your transcripts of grades from any supporting educational qualifications. Please arrange for an academic reference letter of recommendation to be emailed separately, in support of your application. Candidates shortlisted for interview will be informed in due course.

Closing date Mon Feb 15th 2016
Interview date is planned for Thursday 3rd March 2016
This PhD project is intended to begin May-August 2016, depending on needs of the successful candidate.