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Life With Pets: Talking to Dogs, Cats Is Actually a Sign of Intelligence

Apr 08, 2017 04:06 AM EDT
New Laws For Pet Welfare To Come Into Force
Humans anthropomorphize pets as an instinct.
(Photo : Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Carrying a conversation with your pup may feel strange, but it's one of the things that point to the intelligence of human beings. This urge to talk to them is unique not just because of our bond to pets, but also because of how we see them.

Nicholas Epley, the world's foremost anthropomorphism expert, shared in a report from Quartz that anthropomorphism -- the phenomenon of assigning human minds or qualities to non-human entities -- is a behavior that's indicative of the intelligence of people.

"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," Epley explained. "No other species that has this tendency."

He added that humans anthropomorphize objects and events all the time, even without realizing it. Some examples include talking to or naming objects, like many people do with their cars. Even the way people describe objects -- such as calling a car "moody" or a "rickety old man" -- exhibits the way the human mind attributes human qualities.

There are three primal reasons for anthropomorphizing objects: the brain's ability to see faces everywhere, the human instinct to anthropomorphize those that we love (e.g., pets, cars) and the tendency to associate unpredictability to humanness because of people's own unpredictability.

"Recognizing the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognizing a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget," Epley wrote. "It is a reflection of our brain's greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity."

However, the social benefits of animals go beyond a measure for intelligence. Studies have shown that animal therapy can boost mental and emotional health by helping ease stress, fear and anxiety in patients.

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