If you own a pet, you’ve probably had conversations with them quite frequently. You might speak to them like you’d talk to any other human. You tell them goodnight, you ask if they’re thirsty or if they want to go to the park. It almost seems like you’re waiting for your pet to talk back to you. If you talk to your pets the same way you talk to other normal humans, people might look at you strangely. They might ask “Are you crazy?” or become weirded out by this habit of yours.
Perhaps this made you question why you do it in the first place. Why do you prefer speaking with your pets more than speaking with other humans? Are you actually crazy?
Don’t worry. Your tendency to speak to your pets, plants, or other inanimate objects, isn’t stupid. It’s actually a sign of high intellectual capacity. The act of talking to your pets is part of a term called anthropomorphizing. Anthropomorphizing is when humans give human-like emotions, traits or intention to objects or life forms that aren’t human.
Nicholas Epley, the Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is an expert on anthropomorphizing and states that “Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet.”
This term encompasses the act of seeing non-human concepts as human. Children partake in anthropomorphizing quite often and we think it’s cute and quirky. However, when adults take part in it, many people tend to look at it as a weird habit. Experts on the subject are now stating that perceiving human traits in non-human objects is actually a sign of superior smarts.
A study performed at Harvard University in 2011, titled “Cuteness and Disgust: The Humanizing and Dehumanizing Effects of Emotion”, has insight on the subject. A gathering of people was shown photographs of baby animals and adult animals. The majority of the subjects chose baby animals. They later said that they would give the animals traditionally “human” names and would always call them by their proper gender pronouns. They also stated that if they owned these baby animals, they would speak with them about how they speak with other humans.
Although naming animals and objects are the most popular known way to participate in anthropomorphizing, there’s more to it. You are also participating in this act if you give character traits to your animals. Calling a cat your “baby,” or calling your dog a “good boy” isn’t weird, it’s just your intelligence showing.
It’s no secret that the human brain is a complicated mystery yet to be solved. All of the research that we’ve done has barely touched the iceberg on what our brains are capable of. But it’s now seeming that identifying human characteristics in inanimate objects like your car or dolls is actually just a signal that you’re using your brain creatively.
Anthropomorphism is common for humans, but it has positively impacted our pets as well. Research has shown that if you keep speaking to your pets, they learn differences between words and remember certain gestures you make. Because animals like dogs and cats have been companions for centuries, they evolve accordingly to the way we treat them. When you speak with your dogs, they learn to understand the words and feelings associated with them. Cats don’t hold the capability to understand words as much as dogs, but they do understand your voice and simple commands.
Humans try to anthropomorphize objects for three reasons. Sometimes the object looks like it has a face. Sometimes we want to be friends with the object, and sometimes we are curious about its behavior. By understanding these three primal needs to anthropomorphize objects, we realize why this habit is vital to the survival and intelligence of humans.
Our brain shows signs of confusion when we see an inanimate object that has eyes because we try to rationalize it as being human. If you put plastic eyes on your stove, you’ll begin wanting to speak to it or give it a name. This doesn’t mean you’re delusional or crazy, but as explained by scientific studies, it means that it’s in our nature to want to befriend everything we can.
So don’t worry. Your habit of speaking with your pets is a natural phenomenon and very normal. There’s nothing the matter with you! Your brain is just properly functioning and anthropomorphizing. In fact, you might just be more intelligent than people who don’t talk to their pets.