Are you one of those pet owners who deem talking to pets as entertaining and a sign of affection? What used to be a “frowned upon” situation is now supported by studies. It is a fact that talking to pets, animals and inanimate object is now considered perfectly normal. This trait is called anthropomorphism, which refers to the action of treating or associating non-humans or objects with human characteristics.
According to Doctor Nicholas Epley, an anthropomorphism expert and a professor of behavioural science from the University of Chicago, “Historically, anthropomorphising has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural by-product of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet.”
He added that there are no other species that are likely to behave the same way. However, people do not perceive all things with human qualities. One factor that accounts for this behaviour is the sense of similarity. People will likely anthropomorphise those with many traits similar to humans such as humanlike movements and physical features (face).
Theories by behavioural scientists
After years of research about human behaviours, behavioural scientists have come up with the following notions:
- Anthropomorphism is a social extension of cognition.
- The most common type of anthropomorphism is naming things with a human name which is said to be a ‘reciprocal’ form.
- The behaviour of “objects” is seemingly implied to have human connotations which support your relationship with the particular animal or object.
- There is a natural extension of facial recognition through humanising objects by recognising forms of faces that are not really real faces.
In addition, the World Meteorological Organisation states that “the naming of hurricanes and storms – a practice that originated with the names of saints, sailors’ girlfriends, and dislikes political figures – simplifies and facilitates effective communication to enhance public preparedness, media reporting, and the efficient exchange of information.”
Communication as a sign of intelligence
If you have been a pet owner for a long time, then spending a whole lot of time talking to your animal is an all-too-common-situation. Regardless of what other people, as well as our pets, think, you do this with such pleasure as if you really could understand them. Most people seem to communicate with their pets as if they are humans themselves.
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A study conducted at Harvard University by Gary D. Sherman and Jonathan Haidt proved that there is a difference in intelligence between people who communicate with pets than those who do not. The study suggests that people who have conversations with their pets are not social misfits but more intelligent humans. Another study revealed that people give names, talk to baby animals, and would even address them with proper gender pronouns which are exact forms of anthropomorphism.
The human brain is far too complex that we are still oblivious of its full capability. Brains that associate animals and inanimate objects are signs of creativity. Moreover, pets benefit from this behaviour as they are more exposed to human words and gestures that contribute to a sign of evolution. In fact, dogs have the capability to sense human emotions and may even exhibit signs of empathy. These things are a result of anthropomorphism.
What makes them more intelligent? Doctor Eply suggests that with more successful human communication and interpretation with other minds, the more they are considered as more socially intelligent than the others.
The thin line between dogs and children
Data are taken from a PsychologyToday article:
- 81% considers dogs as family members in equivalence to children.
- 44% name themselves as ‘pet parents’ rather than ‘pet owners’.
- As ‘pet parents’ 10% of dog owners admitted celebrating Father’s Day and Mother’s Day with their furry babies.
- 77% of pet owners talk to their pets similar to the way they talk to family members.
- 62% of dogs were designated with their own sofa, bed or chair.
- 81% of dog parents are aware of their pets’ birthdays and 77 per cent of them celebrate the said occasion by buying presents.
- 23% of pet parents keep a photo album with pictures exclusive to their dogs.
- 16% have made scrapbooks featuring their pets.
Dogs becoming virtual children
There may not be any survey that directly proves that furry pets are becoming virtual children, however, the changes seen in the data above suggest otherwise. The reasons may have to do with Empty Nest Syndrome. The term describes the sadness and loneliness that parents may feel when their children leave home. With that, it is likely that people seek comfort from dogs. In this way, their need to nurture and care is satisfied.
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