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Even as die-hard pet lovers, some of us find the idea of talking to our pets silly. Why wouldn’t we find it silly? After all, pets can’t understand a word of what we say, apart from identifying sounds as commands. Also, we belong to different sets of species altogether. So, who in their right minds would waste time trying to converse with pets, right? Well, it seems that we might be wrong and also dumber than our counterparts who actually do talk to their pets. At least, that’s what Nicholas Epley, a Behavioral Science Professor at the University of Chicago, has to say.Anthropomorphization
Dr. Epley points to human-animal conversations as being the result of Anthropomorphization. Anthropomorphization refers to the act of ascribing human characteristics to animals or objects. In other words, when humans talk to their pets, they treat them as a human being.According to Dr. Epley, anthropomorphizing isn’t a sign of childishness, which is how it is perceived commonly. Rather, it is a sign of human intelligence. He also adds that humans do it all the time and cites examples of how some people name objects such as their home or their car. It is simply a unique form of intelligence. Epley suggests that humans may do this because of three factors – our need to see faces everywhere, our need to attribute intelligence to things we like, and the human association with unpredictability.To put it simply, what Epley is trying to say is that anthropomorphizing is how humans deal with certain situations. It is actually the result of our brain responding to certain stimuli. For instance, when Tom Hanks attributes human characteristics to a ball in “Cast Away”, he does so in order to alleviate loneliness and retain his sanity. Of course, that may not be the same as talking to a dog or cat. The circumstances are quite different, but, the reason for engagement is the same – we are trying to make sense.Keep Talking!
However, Epley’s studies also found that people stop conversing with their pets as they grow older because they fear coming off as foolish or even, insane. But, Epley suggests that people continue talking with their pets without fearing judgment as science tells us that it’s not dumb at all. When we say things like, the dog is being cheeky or the computer is acting weird, we are just exhibiting signs of social cognition. In other words, our brains are active and functional. It’s simply the result of having a brain that has developed to perceive other minds. When we talk to people more, we are basically trying to find out who they are and what their intentions are. The same principle could be at work in human-animal interactions.