Pet owners may insist that no one can improve their sour mood better than their beloved animal, but now a new study suggests there may actually be some scientific backing to this claim.

For the study, published online in the journal Anthrozoos, researchers from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania and Miami University in Ohio investigated whether or not just thinking about cats or dogs could provide people with relief from social rejections. Initially, 106 volunteers were randomly chosen to write about either a time in their lives when they felt rejected or excluded, a time when they felt included, or a time where they had a minor physical injury. The participants were then shown images of cats or dogs (based on their personal preference) and asked to give the animal a name, either of their own choosing or to select one from a list. After this exercise, the volunteers completed a test to measure the volunteers’ overall wellbeing.

In a second experiment, volunteers were asked to reflect on a moment of social rejection or a minor injury, and then name either animals or humans. Finally, a third component of the study asked participants to write an essay on either rejection or acceptance, after which they took a test to assess their overall wellbeing. Afterward, the participants were asked to view either an image of an animal or a toy and give it a name.

Results from all three experiments showed volunteers who were asked to think of a name for their preferred animal reported less negative emotions and feelings of rejection than those who did not. Naming a human, however, did not produce the same effect. According to the researchers, these results suggest that thinking of pet could be an effective soothing mechanism for humans in distress.

Lead study author Christina M. Brown said in a recent statement, “Those who are more predisposed to attribute entities with human like-characteristics would benefit from even the most minimal engagement with animals.”

Other research into the power that cute animals have over the human psyche has shown that just looking at images and videos of cute cats and dogs can help boost energy and promote positive emotions. For the study, researchers from Indiana University Media School surveyed more than 7,000 people regarding their fondness for cute cat videos on the Internet and how those videos affect their emotions. Many reported watching the videos while at work or studying and found that the pleasure they got from viewing the videos far outweighed the guilt they had from procrastinating, Some even reported boosts in productivity.

"We all have watched a cat video online, but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us," Jessica Gall Myrick, co-author of the study said in a statement. "As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon."

Source: Brown CM, Hengy SM, McConnell AR. Thinking about Cats or Dogs Provides Relief from Social Rejection. Anthrozoos. 2016.