Gail Melson, PhD

Research and Activities

Dr. Melson's research focuses on animals and nature in children's development, technology and children, social/emotional development, and parent-child relationships throughout the life span.

Why the Wild Things Are explores how animals and nature influence children and families. Animals not only share children's homes as pets, but live in children's imaginations and media. As 21st century children lead more urbanized lives, what is the impact of nature deprivation? How can animals be therapeutic and educational agents? How can nature enrich children's lives? How do children develop to be stewards or despoilers of the environment? These are some of the questions this blog explores.

  • 2013-   Member, Curriculum Development Team, Pet Partners

  • 2012-   Member, Green Chimneys Institute Advisory Council

  • 2010-   Fellow, Purdue University Institute for Human-Animal Connection

  • 2010-   Fellow, University of Denver Institute for Human-Animal Connection

Representative Publications


  • Melson, G. F. (2001). Why the wild things are: Animals in the lives of children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Fogel, A., & Melson, G. F. (1988). Child development: Individual, family, and society. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co.

  • Fogel, A., & Melson, G. F. (1986). Origins of nurturance: Developmental, biological, and cultural perspectives on caregiving. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.

  • Melson, G. F. (1980). Family and environment: An ecosystem perspective. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing.

Book Chapters

  • Melson, G. F. (2013). Building a technoself: Children's ideas about and behavior toward robotic pets. In R. Luppicini (Ed.), Handbook of research on the technoself: Identity in a technological society (pp. 592-608). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Global publishers.

  • Melson, G. F. (2013). Children and animals. In H. Montgomery, (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies in childhood studies.Oxford University Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (2013). Children and wild animals. In P. H. Kahn, Jr., P. Hasbach, & J. Ruckert (Eds.), The rediscovery of the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (2011). Principles for human-animal interaction research. In P. McCardle, S. McCune, J. Griffin, & V. Maholmes, (Eds.), How animals affect us: Examining the influence of human-animal interaction on child development and human health (pp. 13-34). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

  • Melson, G. F. (2010). Play between children and domestic animals. In E. Enwokah, (Ed.), Play as engagement and communication (pp. 23-39). NY: University Press of America.

  • Melson, G. F., & Fine, A. (2010). Animals in the lives of children. In A. Fine (Ed.), Handbook of animal-assisted therapy, 3rd edition (pp. 223-245). NY: Academic Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (2007). Children and animals. In M. Bekoff, (Ed.), Encyclopedia of animal-human relationships (Vol. 1) (pp. 207-215). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Co.

  • Melson, G. F. (2007). Children in the living world: Why animals matter for children's development. In A. Fogel & S. Shanker (Eds.), Human development in the 21st century: Visionary ideas from systems scientists. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Melson, G. F., & Fine, A. H. (2006). Animals in the lives of children. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook of animal-assisted therapy, 2nd edition: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice (pp. 207-226). NY: Academic Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (2000). Companion animals and the emotional development of children: Implications of the biophilia hypothesis. In A. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy. NY: Academic Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (1997). The role of companion animals in human development. In C. C. Wilson & D. C. Turner (Eds.), Companion animals in human health. Sage.

Journal Articles

  • Melson, G. F. (2013). Children's ideas about the moral standing and social welfare of non-human species. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 40(4), 81-106.

  • Bojczyk, K., Lehan, T. J., McWey, L. M., Melson, G. F., & Kaufman, D. R. (2011). Mothers' and adult daughters' perceptions of their relationship. Journal of Family Issues 32, 452-481.

  • Melson, G. F. (2010). Child development robots: Social forces, children's perspectives. Interaction Studies 11, 227-232.

  • Melson, G. F., Kahn, P. H., Jr., Beck, A., & Friedman, B. (2009). Robotic pets in human lives: Implications for the human-animal bond and for human relationships with personified technologies. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 545-567.

  • Melson, G. F., Kahn, P. H., Jr., Beck, A., Friedman, B., Roberts, T., Garrett, E., & Gill, B. (2009). Children's behavior toward and understanding of robotic and living dogs. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 92-102.

  • Melson, G. F. (2007). Animal attraction. Scholastic Parent & Child, 14, 46-47.

  • Melson, G. F., Kahn, P. H., Jr., Beck, A. M., Friedman, B., Roberts, T., & Garrett, E. (2005) Robots as dogs? – Children's interactions with the robotic dog AIBO and a live Australian Shepherd. In Extended Abstracts of CHI 2005. New York, NY: ACM Press.

  • Melson, G. F. (2003). Child development and the human companion animal bond. American Behavioral Scientist, 47, 31-39.

  • Melson, G. F. (2002). Psychology and the study of human-animal relationships. Society and Animals, 10, 347-352.

  • Beck, A. M., Melson, G. F., daCosta, P. L., & Liu, T. (2001). The educational benefits of a ten-week home-based wild bird feeding program for children. Anthrozoos, 14, 19-28.

  • Melson, G. F., Windecker-Nelson, E., & Schwartz, R. L. (1998). Support and stress in mothers and fathers of young children. Early Education and Development, 9, 261-281.

  • Melson, G. F., Schwartz, R. L., & Beck, A. M. (1997). The importance of companion animals in children's lives implications for veterinary practice. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 211, 1512-1518.

  • Windecker-Nelson, E., Melson, G. F., & Moon, S. (1997). Intellectually gifted preschoolers' perceived competence: Relations to maternal attitudes, concerns, and support. Gifted Child Quarterly, 44, 133-144.

  • Melson, G. F., & Fogel, A. (1996). Parental perceptions of their children's involvement with household pets: A test of a specificity model of nurturance. Anthrozoos, 9, 95-105.

  • Windecker-Nelson, E., Moon, S., & Melson, G. F. (1995). Maternal social support networks: Relations to gifted children's self-concept. Research Briefs, 10, 23-32.

  • Melson, G. F. (1994). Reflections on a quality of life model for assessing impact of pets on humans. Anthrozoos, 7, 19-21.

  • Melson, G. F., Hsu, H., & Ladd, G. W. (1993). The parental support networks of mothers and fathers: a multidimensional approach. Early Development and Parenting, 2, 169-182.

  • Melson, G. F., Ladd, G. W., & Hsu, H. (1993). Maternal support networks, maternal cognitions and young children's social and cognitive development. Child Development, 64, 1401-1417.

  • Melson, G. F., Peet, S., & Sparks, C. (1992). Children's attachment to their pets: Links to social emotional development. Children's Environment Quarterly, 8, 55-65.

  • Melson, G. F. (1991). Studying children's attachment to their pets: A conceptual and methodological review. Anthrozoos, 4, 91-99.

  • Melson, G. F., & Kim, J. F., (1990). Separations and reunions of preschoolers and their parents at nursery school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 5, 117-134.

  • Melson, G. F. (1989). The development of meta socialization: A theoretical framework. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 10, 241-266.

  • Melson, G. F., & Fogel, A. (1989). Children's ideas about animal young and their care: A reassessment of gender differences in the development of nurturance. Anthrozoos, 2, 265-273.

  • Melson, G. F. (1988). Availability of and involvement with pets by children: Determinants and correlates. Anthrozoos, 2, 45-52.

Gail Melson

Professor Emerita of Developmental Studies

(PhD, Michigan State University)


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