People Who Talk to Their Pets Are Actually Quite Intelligent

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve probably talked to it at one point or another. And even though you may have been fully aware that your pet couldn’t talk back or even really comprehend what you were saying, you still did it anyway.

Why do we do this? Why do we talk to our pets like human friends when we know their little minds just aren’t built to think or feel the same way we do?

When we talk to our pets, we subconsciously create a human-like bond in our own minds with non-human creatures. We’re built for connection — and we feel more connected to things when we recognize that they’re just like us.

Talking to animals (and even to inanimate objects, such as house plants) is called anthropomorphism. We usually call it “cute” when kids do it, but when adults do it, we tend to view it as a little weird and immature.

According to behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago and anthropomorphism expert Nicholas Epley, talking to animals and objects is actually a sign of intelligent social cognition. Humans are very social creatures, so our brains are wired to see faces and perceive minds everywhere.

Epley explains that we anthropomorphize the things that we love as opposed to the things that we hate. The more we like something, the more likely we are to want to engage with its mind — even if it doesn’t actually have a mind.

In a 2011 study where a group of participants were shown photos of baby animals and adult animals, most admitted to liking the baby animals better and were more likely to anthropomorphize them. If the participants could own one of the baby animals, they said that they would name it, talk to it and refer to it by its appropriate gender pronoun.

The most common way we anthropomorphize animals and objects is by giving them names, but it can apply to character traits, too. For example, a person may describe their cat as “sassy” or their car as a “rickety old man.” These human-like character traits given to non-human things reflect our relationship with them and perhaps even symbolize extensions of ourselves.

Anthropomorphizing only benefits us when inanimate objects are involved, but when it comes to anthropomorphizing domesticated animals like dogs and cats, both ourselves and our pets can benefit. Since these animals evolved over thousands of years to become human companions, they are biologically designed to bond with us.

Studies have shown that when we talk to dogs, they can distinguish between the meaning of the words and the emotional cues we give them. Cats may not be as responsive to human language as dogs are, but they do have the ability to recognize their owners’ voices and they also have 16 different types of vocalizations they use to communicate.

So you can let go of the widely held belief that talking to your pet, your houseplants, your car or anything else is childish or even a little bit crazy. From a scientific viewpoint, it turns out that quite the opposite is true.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

319 comments

La'neSa'an M
La'neSa'an M2 months ago

I find talking with my beloved companions helps the relationships tremendously. I use words as well as images I send them in thought waves. This works with my 2-legged companions too. Our relationships become much deeper and more fulfilling.
I agree with you Mona M.

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Sheila Miller
Sheila Miller4 months ago

I do feel that pets like to be talked to. They do listen as you speak, and I think it provides them comfort. Thanks for the article.

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Renata B
Renata B4 months ago

Thanks.

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Kerrie G
Kerrie G4 months ago

Thank you.

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Elisabeth T
Elisabeth T4 months ago

Love talking to my kitties. Thank you for the good article

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Lindi S
Lindi Smith4 months ago

Sure glad Cats can't 'talk' LOL

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Julia S
Julia S5 months ago

Thank you!

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Julia S
Julia S5 months ago

Agree with Mona M.

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Mona M
Mona M5 months ago

Thank you. Nothing new, people from ancient cultures have always talked to animals and actually, it has nothing to do with Anthropomorphism but being able to speak an universal language which is beyond words. But of course, someone who has become too intellectual won't be able to communicate in that way.

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Mike H
Mike H5 months ago

ty

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