If you’ve been debating getting a pet for a while now, a new study on infants from the University of California might give you paws. Past research has already determined that babies as young as 4 months old can recognize dog and cat faces, but now experts are now finding that having a pet influences this ability.
Researchers studied 48 healthy 4-month-olds, (which may seem like a relatively small sample size, but it’s hard to get parents to sign their babies over to science). Of this group, 27 either lived in homes with cats or dogs, or spent at least 10 hours a day in a daycare setting with these pets (no, it wasn’t doggy daycare). The remaining 21 had no regular contact with domestic animals. Babies in both groups had their eye movement monitored while being shown pictures of dogs, cats, and control images that didn’t have any animals.
As it turns out, infants who spent time with pets focused longer on the animal faces those who hadn’t, whereas there was no difference between groups when looking at the control images. This suggests that not only did the babies with furry friends recognize them, but they were able to process the information more effectively than those babies who didn’t have a litter box in their home.
The results confirm that an infant’s experience with non-human faces facilitates visual cognitive development, and pets are perfect non-humans. But before you run out to the shelter, remember that these researchers don’t know anything about your specific situation, and there are plenty reasons to hold off on adding another wild animal to your family — from the expense to your spouse’s allergies. If those factors don’t apply, then it’s just a matter of dealing with even more poop in your house.
Read More: Baby Development